This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.
The Internet has allowed us to learn more about ourselves and each other across a staggering number of forums. Unfortunately, not all of those forums are positive. In a disturbing trend, “local gossip” or “burn” websites have become increasingly more popular as the Internet has grown. TheDirty.com is one of the most notable sites that fall under this category, mainly because it lets individuals anonymously post photos and commentary on private citizens with zero verification and little recourse.
Sites like TheDirty.com are more than a mere nuisance; they can pose a real threat to the reputations of those that have defamatory comments posted about them. Here’s what you need to know about the site and how to remove a post if you’ve been affected.
What exactly is TheDirty.com?
Essentially, TheDirty.com is a celebrity and local gossip site run by Hooman Abedi Karamian, better known as Nik Ritchie. In 2007, he began the site under the name DirtyScottsdale while he lived and worked in Scottsdale, Arizona. Ritchie quickly built the site on the posting of unsubstantiated gossip and criticism about partygoers in his area.
DirtyScottsdale ballooned into TheDirty.com and expanded its focus to numerous other cities. Anyone can submit pictures, comments, and videos about any resident of these locations. And as you might have guessed from the name of the site, this content isn’t exactly about what great people they are. In fact, TheDirty has become a popular destination for envious colleagues, ex-lovers, and others that may be out for revenge.
Today, TheDirty, which calls itself the “World’s Largest Gossip Website,” receives millions of visits each month, from both frequent users and others who may be searching for you online. What’s more, it’s notorious for being one of Google’s “highly authoritative” websites, which means that its posts will generally appear first during online searches.
That’s a pretty serious problem because TheDirty is supposedly dedicated to outing rude, unpleasant, and otherwise dangerous people, but it doesn’t seem to verify any of its information. And with archives dating back as far as the site’s inception, mistakes people made long ago during high school or college may still be lingering on the Internet without their knowledge.
How much should I worry about posts on TheDirty.com?
Posts on TheDirty, whether they’re completely fabricated or just extremely one-sided, can cause long-term damage to your online reputation, especially if they climb up in your search rankings. Not only can these unverified posts be easily seen by family, friends, and acquaintances, but they may also be found by potential employers.
In today’s digital society, an increasing number of companies are using the Internet to look at sources and verify information about job candidates. According to research from Cross-Tab, 75 percent of companies have actually put explicit policies in place that mandate the online screening of applicants. Based on the search results that they find, a staggering 70 percent of recruiters in the United States claim that they will ultimately turn job candidates away. If a prospective employer finds disparaging posts about you on TheDirty, you may find yourself facing the same consequences in your own professional life.
How can TheDirty.com be legal?
It may seem as though TheDirty is proliferating defamatory content that could be considered illegal, but it’s still largely protected under the law. To fully understand why, it’s important to look at two aspects of law that make it difficult to take action against the site:
Libel may be a crime, but it’s a crime with a very specific and narrow definition that makes deleting a post from TheDirty.com quite tricky. This legal term refers to untrue comments made in writing that have a negative effect on a person’s reputation. The person who makes these comments does not need to do so with malicious intent for them to fall under the definition of libel; it’s only necessary for the statement to be untrue and damaging to the individual mentioned.
Though U.S. libel laws have been around for nearly 300 years, this crime can be surprisingly difficult to prove in court, and those who do win often have their verdicts overturned in higher courts. This is because the court differentiates between falsified statements of fact and statements of opinion. You’re allowed, under the Constitution, to state that you don’t like somebody on the Internet, and courts are often very specific about the difference between opinion and something presented as a fact.
You can only prove libel to a court in three ways: You have to demonstrate that the statement was false, prove that the statement caused some form of damage to you, and verify that the information mentioned was not properly researched before it was published. Sometimes, you may also be required to substantiate additional damages that you incurred due to the libelous comments. And all of this can be more complicated than you may think. Take a bad break-up, for example. Your former partner goes online and posts a long, messy entry on his or her Facebook that tells it entirely from his or her perspective. If he or she leaves out certain facts that would explain your actions or justify your behavior, that’s not libel, because the ex isn’t making any false statements.
All of this makes taking a libel case to court not only difficult, but also time-consuming and expensive.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act
Unfortunately for those that are subjected to defamatory posts on TheDirty.com, the site is largely protected from legal action due to the Communications Decency Act (CDA). This legislation protects both the free market and promotes the growth of the Internet by removing liability from websites like TheDirty, should certain malicious content appear on their webpages. Under the CDA, Ritchie—the owner of an “interactive computer service”—can’t be held responsible for the posts that third party users write and submit to his website. TheDirty even specifies on its Legal FAQs page that you can only sue the author of the post, not the forum itself, if he or she has spread falsehoods about you.
The CDA has protected TheDirty in court before. Most notably, schoolteacher and former Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones filed a lawsuit against the site after slanderous anonymous post about her appeared on the site in 2009. The jury sided with Jones, who won $388,000 in damages. However, Ritchie took the case to an appeals court, which ruled that Jones’ case against TheDirty should never have been allowed. The panel of judges cited the CDA in their decision to overturn the initial ruling, saying that the legislation fully protected Ritchie and his website against such lawsuits.
Given how difficult it is to take legal action against TheDirty, you’ll have to erase a post from TheDirty.com through other means.
Is it easy to remove posts from TheDirty.com?
It depends. Technically speaking, you can remove a post by going through TheDirty directly; the site has a page where you can request that posts be removed. The site outlines two main paths toward removal. First, you can present TheDirty with a court order mandating the removal of the content in question. The site doesn’t consider itself to be the “Truth Police,” so its staff won’t go to extra lengths to determine whether any given post is true or false. On your own, you’ll need to prove unequivocally that the post includes false information about you. If you can do so in court, TheDirty will take the order into account and likely take down the erroneous content. This can be difficult, however, because the majority of posts on the site contain opinions, which cannot be proven false.
Second, you can contact TheDirty’s legal department and ask them to remove a post if it has violated one of the site’s policies. These fall under a few major categories: posts that feature sexually explicit materials or revenge porn, posts that contain pictures of children under the age of 13, and posts that mention personal information. TheDirty also requires its users to comply with other policies, prohibiting them from posting someone’s copyrighted materials and making violent threats. However, if the post you want taken down doesn’t meet one of these criteria, the site will likely ignore your request.
As you can see, though TheDirty claims that its removal policies are “ lenient,” it can still be difficult to get a post taken down. Posts that go up on the site tend to stay up unless challenged in some way, shape, or form, or deleted as part of fallout from another matter, such as lost site data. In short, you really shouldn’t expect TheDirty to even consider deleting a post about you without being explicitly asked to do so. Otherwise, you may need to take other routes when looking to have your posts taken down from TheDirty.
You don’t have to go through TheDirty to remove content from the Internet. You can try petitioning search engines to remove links to the offending content. Sites like Google will often remove links from its search results if they contain personal information such as medical records, signatures, and explicit photos that were posted without your permission.
A foolproof method, however, is to simply bury the TheDirty content. 95 percent of people searching for your name on Google won’t look past page one, so the further down you can push a TheDirty link, the less likely it is that it’ll be seen. You may not be erasing a post from the site, but you’ll be doing the next best thing.
What else can I do to deal with TheDirty.com posts?
If you don’t want anonymous Internet slander to define you, ReputationDefender can help you bury this negative content under more positive materials. Don’t let people who dislike you control your life; call ReputationDefender today for a free consultation.