Refutation of the disinformation about Monica Pignotti

Archive for April, 2011

Targets of Cyber Abuse Who Fight Back

Like a typical abuser, cyber abusers expect the victim to remain a victim, quietly slink away and not assert themselves. What happens when the victim defies convention and chooses to assert herself, as I have? The result is similar to the way a typical real life abuser responds. He/she attempts to reframe things with the following types of responses, characterizing the victim’s fighting back as:

  • Shrill (commonly used by sexists against females who dare to assert themselves — rarely are males ever described as “shrill”)
  • Mentally unbalanced
  • Making unreasonable “demands”
  • Being a “conspiracy” theorist
  • Being narcissistic
  • Being a drama queen
  • Being selfish
  • Being an attention whore (internet jargon for someone who needs attention, which is the equivalent of saying a rape victim was asking for it]
  • Use sock puppets to make it appear that the victim is being ganged up on when really it is only a few people who are running the smear campaign.
  • Attempt to portray the victim as an “internet addict,” say that the person has a lot of time on her hands (ironic, given the amount of time and effort the cyber abuser is going to, to smear the person) or showing how many postings the person made, neglecting to mention they were responses to the equally many posts the cyber abuser has made.
  • Attempt to reframe any support the person gets as being done in exchange for sexual favors (in my case this has gotten to be absurd, as a statement of support from many prominent mental health professionals I will soon be posting, which includes heterosexual females, will indicate).
  • If all else fails, sue the victim with a SLAPP lawsuit
  • Or if there was a sexual relationship between the abuser and victim and worse, if they had a child together, suing the woman for custody and use the child as a weapon (although this obviously does not apply in my case I have counseled women in the past who have been through that kind of situation).

These are just a few ways cyber abusers and cyber stalkers attempt to rip away from the victim the right to defend him or herself. All of these things could discourage the victim from taking a proactive stand against the abuser and defend herself. See it and call it what it is. Don’t fall for it.

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Monica Pignotti and NYU: What Really Happened

For more than a year now, the malicious lie has been posted that I was “fired” from Florida State University and declared “unfit to teach”, along with all kinds of other nonsense. As stated previously, this is entirely false and I have references and positive teaching evaluations that prove otherwise. It has become very obvious that someone is very hard at and spending an inordinate amount of time posting falsehoods about me on a regular basis, to try and make sure I do not get a faculty position by posting such lies and hoping the people doing the hiring believe them or perhaps wrongfully blame me as the victim that I must have done something to deserve this. What I did was expose what I consider to be abuse in the name of “therapy” (for example, using outdated prone restraint methods on children with behavior problems rather than empirically supported methods). This is why I am being targeted although 47 of my colleagues have been courageous enough to take a stand with me.

Now, in five separate postings, this lie is being extended to New York University (NYU) [Update May 20: there have now been a number of additional postings falsely asserting that NYU has made a statement that they have not and other false statements about this matter). For example, one posting claims that I was denied a position at NYU because of information that came up on an FOIA request on me for FSU. This is utterly absurd, since the only teaching I did at FSU was as a doctoral student and I only left because I graduated and left in good standing in every way. I was never faculty at FSU in the first place. My teaching was done as a PhD candidate under a stipend that all PHD students/candidates get and do teaching or research in exchange. I graduated and left in good standing and have the references to prove it. Another posting lied that NYU discovered I had a criminal record when the truth, which can be easily verified by a background check is that I have no criminal record whatsoever for anyone to discover, not even so much as a traffic ticket.

Before I go any further, let there be no misunderstanding. Please note that I am in no way intending to blame NYU for what I am about to describe happened nor am I accusing any of their faculty or personnel of anything. The person posting these malicious lies, whoever it is, appears to not have a conscience when it comes to lying and may well be a sociopath. Sociopaths can be very clever and even though I am sure the people at NYU did everything possible to protect the information I sent them, such people can find ways to get around these kinds of setups through no fault of the people concerned. It could have happened to virtually anyone.

Already my cyber stalker is frantically trying to misportray me as spinning conspiracy theories. No, I am not. The fact is that when a person applies for a job, their application is supposed to be kept confidential and in my case, the confidentiality of my application was breached. Postings were made that I had applied for this job when I had not publicly revealed that anywhere. Postings were made saying that I did not get the position before I was notified. How this happened is unknown and that is what I am requesting be investigated. This is a reasonable request because if there is a leak somewhere — whether that leak be due to computer hacking, someone snooping or someone violating the confidentiality of job applications, someone gossiping to friends about who applied or something else — it needs to be fixed so future applicants won’t have this happen to them. I am not blaming anyone, but I do have the right to know what happened. The fact is that the confidentiality of my application was violated, someone, somehow through some unknown means gained access to information they should not have had and a matter I chose to keep private was posted on the internet. That is an issue that needs to be taken very seriously.

Here is what actually happened with NYU. It is interesting and telling to note that until today (April 18, 2011) I have not discussed nor even mentioned anything about this matter. I have not discussed it on the Internet or even on Facebook. I make it a point never to discuss by name any faculty positions I apply for before a final decision has been made, for obvious reasons. Yet although it is a bald-faced lie that I was declared “unfit” for the position (in fact, I was declared by the search committee head “a qualified applicant”), someone seems to have gained inside information that I had applied for a faculty position at NYU’s school of social work and that I did not get it. How this information was obtained remains a mystery, since I am sure that the people on the search committee are completely ethical and would never have leaked it. It appears that someone snooped or someone snooped and then told someone else who posted this.

The anonymous poster, whoever it was, was apparently aware that I had not gotten the position before I received my rejection letter and announced the fact that I did not get the job in a very nasty way, accompanied by lies about the reasons why. The posting was made shortly before I got my formal rejection letter (via e-mail).

I notified the search committee chair about this to apprise him of the situation and he expressed serious concern and expressed his sincere compassion about what I was having to endure with regard to the internet smear campaign (I sent the head of the search committee links to all the postings so he could see the outrageous lies in them). While it is true I did not get the position, it is completely false that I didn’t get it because they considered me unfit to teach or that it had anything to do with any of the lies that were posted about me such as the lie that I have a criminal record, which of course I do not. The head of the search committee has now given me permission to make it publicly known that he and the other search committee members considered me one of a number of strong, qualified applicants who applied for the position and their decision was in no way meant to reflect poorly on me.

The NYU faculty position I applied for was an administrative program coordinator position for an MSW program at a campus outside of New York City. When I applied, I fully realized that this was a long shot for me and my chances of getting this were slim, simply because I have no administrative program coordinator experience in a university setting. I have such experience in a hospital setting, but I am well aware they must have had plenty of applicants who did have such experience in a university setting and understandably they would be a better fit for the position than I was. My main strengths and the bulk of my experiences are in research, clinical and teaching, not administration but I was willing to accept such a position, given the desirable location, high quality of the university and the fact that I did at least have some experience in a hospital, although not a university setting.

The job market this year is especially competitive, tough and challenging and for a school as popular as NYU is, I am sure they are being completely truthful that they did have many qualified applicants and I am honored that they considered me among their pool of qualified applicants even though I ultimately was not selected for the position. I completely accept that that’s the way things are on the job market. Hundreds can apply for a given position, but only one person can get the job. It doesn’t mean that the applicants not selected were “unfit” or even that they were in any way inferior to the one chosen. It only means that the person selected was considered a better fit for that particular job.

Just to give people an idea of how tough this job market is, someone I know who teaches at Rutgers mentioned to me that about 120 people applied for one social work faculty position on their Newark campus. I would imagine that a comparable number would apply for an NYU position, as jobs in the NYC area are very popular and desirable.

What is disturbing is that the information that I applied and did not get the position was somehow discovered by someone who was apparently snooping where he/she did not belong. The matter was investigated but unfortunately it looks like at least for now, whoever did these postings has gotten away with it. Maybe next time whoever this is, won’t be so lucky. At some point the person will go too far and get caught, just as most overconfident sociopaths do.

Also note that this does not have to do with a breach in internet security on my end, because whoever did the postings knew that I did not get the position before I was notified, hence that information was not on my computer. Moreover, if someone had actually gained access to my private e-mails, there is much more information about my job search for jobs I actually had a much better chance of getting where I was on short lists that they could have sabotaged that could have been far more damaging to my job search, but were not discovered. The only place that was found out about was NYU and since I haven’t posted publicly about this until now, this leads me to believe that the breach occurred somewhere at NYU where someone gained illegal access to my application material, either by hacking into their computers or somehow gained access to my materials by snooping where they were physically located or some other way that I can’t even conceive of because I have to confess I have no experience or expertise in criminal activity such as that.

I predict that now postings will appear saying I “admitted” that NYU declared me unfit to teach or some other malicious lie. If this happens, fair warning to my cyber stalker, I will post a link to this blog article exposing the lies and distortions about what really happened.

This is yet another example of how malicious this smear campaign has gotten and how it appears to have extended beyond the internet. However, sometimes people get overconfident and do eventually get caught. At this time, I do not know the identity of the individual(s) doing this. However, it is interesting to note that at least some of the therapists whom I have criticized, by their own admission, had serious behavior problems themselves as youths and so with such a history, I have to wonder if perhaps such problems carried over into adulthood, but at this point I do not know if that is the case.

Part of the reason that I am posting this is that some people have laughed this whole smear campaign against me off as a trivial prank by some internet troll. The fact that inside information about my job search that was not available anywhere on the internet was obtained is one more piece of evidence that it is far more serious than that and that someone is also doing snooping off the internet.  This is very serious business and in some states, such cyber stalking especially when it involves illegally gaining access to information, may be considered a crime. It is certainly nothing to laugh off and blame the victim for. For people who are tempted to laugh this off and think it is nothing, first walk a mile in my shoes.

Update: A recent posting hinted that a “vigilant” group of unidentified individuals wrote a letter to NYU. This appears to be similar to what happened at FSU when a number of faculty members received a rather rambling, disjointed e-mail that smeared me and made accusations that I made postings on a blog that was not my blog that I had no responsibility for. Fortunately, they were not taken seriously and several of the faculty members forwarded the e-mails to me in order to make me aware of what was going on. All were sympathetic to me and opined that these anonymous e-mails had no credibility and appeared to be coming from an unstable individual and they expressed their condolences to me for having to deal with this. Apparently these individual who is writing these anonymous letters has no self-awareness as to how he/she comes across to others.

A few months before that Ronald Federici wrote a letter of “complaint” to the Dean of the College of Social work at FSU. I do not know if he was involved in the contacts that were allegedly made with NYU. Fortunately, the Dean at FSU chose not to take an action with regard to that letter and let me know that he considered it irrelevant to my work at FSU. To add insult to injury Federici also attempted to sue me for the commentary I wrote about his complain to my dean (Exhibit H). However, in the dismissal hearing, the Federal judge ruled that my comments did not constitute defamation and were opinion. Yes, I do indeed have the right to defend myself.

Debunking the Myth that I (Monica Pignotti) spend my “whole life” on the Internet

It has been asserted by those other WordPress bloggers and elsewhere that I spend my “whole life” on the internet or even that I have an “all time record”. Hardly. Even in the months where I recorded over 100 postings, that’s about 3 postings a day, hardly a record of any kind.

Internet postings and discussions are a sort of hobby for me and yes, I enjoy vigorous discussion and debate on actual topics (as opposed to personal smears some have leveled at me for disagreeing with them) and sometimes I do get into it with people. However, I most certainly do not spend my “whole life” on the internet as I actually work a minimum of 8 hours per day, sometimes much more and it is impossible for me to work and post at the same time (I am paid for product, not time, so no one can accuse me of using my job time to post because if that were the case I would not get paid). And no, contrary to malicious lies that have been posted about me, I am not working in an adult bookstore or in anything even remotely related to the sex industry.

During the time period of some of the postings that have been referred to (e.g. 2008), I was a full time student who never made anything less than an A- in any class I took and also had several articles accepted by peer review journals which take much time to produce, so I could hardly be spending my “whole life” on the internet. Since graduation, I have published several more articles, book chapters and co-authored a book. Again, these are projects I could not have accomplished, had I really been spending all my time on the internet.

I’m just a very fast typist and can knock off a post of a few hundred words in a few minutes that might take some people without my typing skills much longer.

The postings that attempt to portray me as someone who spends my “whole life” on the internet are yet another misportrayal of my life, by those who are unhappy with my criticism of certain therapy gurus who will grasp at any straw to attempt to discredit me.

The real issue here is that there are some people who are so upset by my criticism and expression of concerns about harmful practices carried out in the name of “therapy” that they just cannot stand vigorous debate where anything is seriously challenged, hence the need to personally attack me as an “internet addict” who spends my “whole life” on the internet. Attempts to label critics as having mental disturbances is nothing new. Totalitarian dictatorships have been doing that for centuries, but thankfully I live in a free country where they are powerless to use government force against me. Hence, the all too obvious attempts to denigrate anyone who dares to challenge.

Monica Pignotti: Another Typical Sunday of Internet Smear Campaign

I am continuing to expose the anonymous smear campaign against me. As noted previously, this smear campaign has escalated considerably following the dismissal of Federici v Pignotti. Coincidence? You be the judge. Note that I am not accusing anyone in particular of being the anonymous poster. Given the vast differences in writing styles, it is likely there are more than one. Some are fairly literate whereas others seem to have difficulty even putting simple sentences together. I’m just pointing a few things out and people can make their own guesses, which are as good as mine.

That being said, Ronald Federici has responded to his critics, in a posting that he has linked to his own website. In case anyone is wondering why I am linking to it and thus aiding in its promotion, read it and you’ll understand.

Now, back to the posters who appear to have less courage and choose to post anonymous lies about me.

Please note that I have chosen an unorthodox way to deal with this by responding to these postings. I am well aware that conventional wisdom is against this. However, I have tried not responding at all for months at a time and the postings did not stop. Also notice that Larry Sarner has chosen not to respond to any of the smear postings about him and yet the unrelenting smear campaign against him has also continued. I need to remind people who believe they know all about this, that this is a very new area and just as conventional wisdom about the need of rape victims to remain silent and just submit proved to be wrong, conventional wisdom about victims of cyber abuse remaining silent may also prove to be wrong.

Last Sunday I exposed the postings that were made against me on that day. Today I am doing the same. It isn’t even 3PM yet and here are the ones that have appeared so far.

On alt.religion.scientology

Monica Pignotti: Professional Cultist

Yet another repetition of malicious lies and outright fabrications including:

  • The lie that I was “expelled” from Advocates for Children in Therapy for failing to pay “my share” of the legal bills

This one is false on a number of counts. First of all, I was not “expelled”. I have not been involved with ACT since December 2010 before any legal bills ever even existed. There was never any issue over legal bills with ACT because I had a different lawyer from an entirely different law firm from ACT/Sarner/Rosa. Again, this is all a verifiable matter of public record from the now-dismissed case of Ronald Federici v Monica Pignotti et al. Although I am no longer part of ACT, my departure was my own choice. I have nothing critical to say about them and still support their mission. You see, in the non-cultic world, people come and go from organizations all the time for benign reasons that have nothing to do with being “expelled’ or with abandonment.

  • The lie that the “remainder” of my work is in “cultic studies”

In fact, very little of my professional work has anything whatsoever to do with “cultic studies” as my CV demonstrates. However, the fact that I do have some knowledge of cults and their dynamics appear to be a big threat to some people who are exhibiting very cultic behaviors of launching smear campaigns against their critics. In Scientology this is called fair game.

  • The lie that I am hoping to make money doing adoption therapy with a certain licensed psychologist.

This is completely false. I have never made any money doing adoption therapy, nor do I ever intend to. This made the now-dismissed charges of “tortious interference” very difficult to make stick, given that I have never made any money from my advocacy work. I have never met the psychologist in question, nor have I ever had any kind of business relationship with her, nor do I plan to.

  • The lie that I was fired from FSU due to “immorality”

I was not fired from FSU at all. In fact, I only left because I graduated with my PhD and I have the references to prove it that I can and have supplied to any legitimate organization requesting them. The nonsense about sexual misconduct and “immorality” is a complete fabrication.

  • The lie that I have a criminal conviction for “witness tampering” that has ended my ability to land a tenure-track position.

I have no criminal record whatsoever. I invite anyone with any doubts to run a background check on me, which will come up squeaky clean, not even traffic violations. Whether the internet smear campaign has ended my ability to land a tenure track position remains to be seen. If it has (and note I say if), that is more of an indictment of the profession then it is of me, that I would be penalized for my advocacy work by a profession that professes to value advocacy.  I truly hope this is not the case.

  • The fabrication that my “sexual openness” has landed me in court for divorce, custody and alimony cases.

This is a complete fabrication. I have never had anything whatsoever to do with any such cases and I am about as far as one could get from the description “sexually promiscuous”.

  • The fabrication that my behavior at “academic events” has given me the title “social work sex toy”

Another complete fabrication. The only one who has used that “title” to describe me have been these anonymous cyber stalkers.

Just how desperate can these people be to grasp at these kind of straws to attack me?

But wait, there’s more:

Also from alt.religion.scientology:

Monica Pignotti: The Academic Failure

This is basically a repetition of the same lies that were in the posting described above. It looks like here, my cyberstalker got lazy and just cut and pasted the same malicious, defamatory material.

Monica Pignotti and Pavlov’s Dog

This one is an attempt to blame me, the victim of cyber abuse.

First, it castigates me for having a “Google Alert” on myself. Setting up a “Google Alert” is pretty standard advice to someone in my position who is being cyber stalked and there is nothing wrong with doing so.

It also excoriates me for responding to posting and says I am “talking to myself”. No, responding to postings is not talking to ones self. It is responding to a posting. Responding more than once to a posting is also not talking to oneself. Sometimes a thoughtful person will post something and after sending it have some more thoughts to add to it, hence a second posting. This has nothing to do with mental illness. In fact, this kind of behavior pattern was illustrated by the fictional character, Colombo who was known for coming back and saying “one more thing”. For those of you old enough to remember:

Was Colombo’s character supposed to be mentally ill? I don’t think so. He was an eccentric but brilliant detective whose mind was always running full speed ahead to solve the mystery at hand. I consider myself to be a philosophical and psychological detective. It is a hallmark indicator of a mental health quack to pathologize (label as mentally ill) behavior that is merely different.

I wasn’t talking to myself but I might as well also point out that the notion that talking to oneself is a sign of mental illness is a common myth believed by amateurs and some ignorant therapists who endorse quack DID therapies. No, it is not. Here is a website that cites research to debunk that myth (and it’s also fine for children):

For adults who do so, don’t worry. Scientists advocate talking to yourself, believing it to be perfectly normal as well as having phenomenal emotional benefits. According to a recent poll conducted by Nottingham Trent University, passengers on a bus or train are able to release their inner stress by quietly humming a tune or simply whispering to themselves.  However, they try to do this as inaudibly as possible, feeling “it’s legitimate to communicate to others, but not with themselves” as cited from leading researcher Dr. Glenn Williams.

Furthermore, children also stand to gain by speaking to themselves. A study conducted by Dr. Adam Winsler of George Mason University deduced that kindergarten kids who talk to themselves are more confident, participating actively during class compared to their more introverted peers. By chatting with themselves, they are able to put their problems into perspective and reflect upon their past actions. Dr. Adam says “private speech” was essential in childhood development and should not be censured, but rather heartily embraced and encouraged.

So much for that myth.

Moving on to the Cooking Junkies Newsgroup (who knows why they selected cooking):

Monica Pignotti: Immoral and Detested

Well okay, there is a grain of truth to this one. I am indeed “detested” by people who are followers of certain therapy gurus I have criticized.  My rebuttal to that one is:

Monica Pignotti: Moral and Detested by Quacks

The rest is just a cut and paste of the postings I described above. Guess my anonymous stalker is having a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Will update this as more will inevitably come in.

Oh, and one more thing I would like to ask the people who are participating in this smear campaign:

What, exactly do you say to yourself to make what you are doing, in your own mind, okay?

How are you rationalizing posting these malicious lies about me?

Or am I giving you too much credit in asking this question? After all, sociopaths have no need to rationalize anything to themselves.

Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?


Anonymous Internet Smear Campaign against Monica Pignotti Escalates after Court Case Dismissal

Update April 3: Those other WordPress anonymous smear bloggers are at it again, misrepresenting my internet postings, which were made in defense, not initiated by me because I feel “compelled” to post every spring or any such nonsense. This particular spring, what has happened is that following the dismissal of Ronald Federici v Monica Pignotti et al, the smear campaign against me has escalated.

Although I need to begin by stating that these postings are anonymous and I am not accusing anyone in particular of being the anonymous poster(s), it is interesting to note that in the month following the dismissal of Federici v Pignotti, the smear campaign against me, which was relatively quiet with only a few mild postings about me for the 3-month duration of this case, has now resumed in full force. There seems to be a frantic quality to these postings by people who are obviously desperate to discredit me and have let loose with the most obscene imaginable false statements about me. In many states, these kinds of statements, especially the obscene ones, would qualify as libel per se, meaning that the statements are so obviously defamatory that the plaintiff would not even have to prove damages to win a case, should these anonymous cowards ever be identified and happen to live in such states. For example, one of the defamatory postings falsely stated that I had committed a serious crime. That type of statement may be considered libel per se if the anonymous coward who posted this were to be identified.

The other person defamed in that particular post (I am not linking to it because I do not want to promote this obscenity but it does come up on Google searches in my name), by the way, is someone who was critical of her child’s former social worker therapist in the media. Although I have never met this courageous mother, since she blew the whistle on him to the press, the internet has been flooded with highly defamatory postings about her and for some reason my name was brought into it as well. Why my name was linked to this is baffling since I cannot in any way claim credit for having exposed this particular social worker and have never publicly criticized his practices other than this mention and as far as I know this particular individual had nothing to do with Federici v Pignotti et al. The social worker in question moved his practice to Virginia, after being ordered by his licensing board in Oklahoma to stop misrepresenting his credentials. This is yet another illustration of the price people pay who choose to blow the whistle on certain therapists although in this instance, his licensing board actually did take action. Kudos to the Oklahoma Board for setting such a good example.

All kinds of absurd lies are being posted about me, including a completely fabricated report that I had an affair with someone’s husband and broke up her marriage and then that link has been Google bombed, by repeatedly posting it all over the internet making the completely false statement that I am a party in multiple divorce cases. People who know me know that the last thing in the world I would ever be interested in, is someone else’s husband. The lies that are being posted are so far afield of who I am as a person, it is obvious to anyone who actually knows me how off base they are.

These kinds of “cheaters” sites are highly controversial because they allow anonymous people to post anything they please and there is absolutely no fact checking. Any anonymous person can go onto such a site and make any kind of unsubstantiated allegations they please and there does not seem to be any accountability. Naturally, this makes these kinds of websites fertile ground for anyone with an agenda to smear another person with lies.

The latest postings about me have been highly obscene, sexist as well as homophobic towards my legal counsel and the legal counsel of some of the other defendants (actually I have no idea what their sexual orientation is, nor does it matter to me, but the postings about them show that whoever is doing them is highly homophobic). Some of the postings have also been denigrating people who have supported me. However, these postings say far more about the people who are doing them than they do about me, which is why they are anonymous.

If you Google my name, Monica Pignotti, please keep the timing of these postings in mind. Although I am not accusing anyone in particular of posting these, the timing is noteworthy and some of the postings which directly mention parties in the lawsuit are obviously upset about its outcome, which is that the case has been dismissed by a Virginia Federal judge who has ruled that Virginia has no jurisdiction over any of the defendants.

The plaintiff of the now-dismissed Federici v Pignotti et al, Ronald Federici has posted in his own name, a highly derogatory piece (in my opinion) on me and all the other defendants that is linked to his own website which I have responded to. People can read his posting and my response and decide for themselves how to evaluate it.

To the people who are trying to “help” me out by advising me to just ignore these postings and they will go away, that is not the case. Believe it or not, I have actually heard and carefully considered all the arguments in favor of making that choice. I urge people to walk a mile in my shoes before they presume to judge me for the choices I have made, which includes going against this conventional wisdom that is often presented as if it were some kind of unquestionable truth. In actuality, cyber abuse is a very new phenomenon that has yet to be studied so we really cannot claim that ignoring these people is a successful strategy. In this case, making the less conventional choice is not necessarily making the choice with the least evidence to back it up, because neither the conventional nor the unconventional choices have good evidence to back them up. Therefore, other factors such as personal style (does the person tend to face or avoid conflict, e.g.) or values can come into play.

Remember that around 20 years ago, rape victims were told to be silent and just submit because fighting back would only make things worse. We have since learned that this is a myth and rape victims are now advised to loudly fight back in any way they can.  There seems to be a similar myth attached to cyber abuse, that the victims should just slink off somewhere and remain silent and that will get it to stop when again, we don’t know that is the case. In my case, this is particularly not likely to happen because based on the content of many of the posts, the anonymous posters are upset about my criticism of certain therapists. It is not that they want me to stop fighting back — what they want is for me to stop my criticism and since I will not be silenced, this will continue, regardless of if and how I respond to it.

For further proof of this, observe that Larry Sarner and Linda Rosa have not responded at all to this smear campaign and yet Larry Sarner is getting pummeled at least as badly as I am, maybe even worse since the dot com domain in his name has been bought by someone else and a smear website has been put up. He remains silent and has not fought back and yet the attacks and smears against him continue, unabated. I’m not criticizing him for this. I am only pointing out that he made a different choice than I did on how to respond and it does not seem to have stopped the attacks any more than my responding has.

The fact is that those of us who have found ourselves to be targets of cyber smear campaigns are damned if we do and damned if we don’t respond. That is the position we are in and so I ask people to please not rub salt in our wounds by blaming the victims for how they choose to respond. It would be more helpful to focus on the perpetrators and attempt to gain a better understanding of what motivates someone to do what these anonymous posters have done to me. It has been very difficult for me to imagine what kind of mindset someone must be in to sit on their computer and post these kinds of obscenities and lies, all under the protection of pseudonyms and anonymity that the internet offers. As the renowned social psychologist Philip Zimbardo has pointed out in his book The Lucifer Effect, there is a large body of research that shows that people will say and do things when anonymous that they would not otherwise do or say when their identity is known.

Although I do acknowledge that anonymity can have legitimate purposes such as survivors of abuse coming forward and telling their stories, in some cases, deciding where to draw the line can be a difficult issue with no clear cut answers. For example, the loosely-associated group of people called Anonymous has been exposing Scientology abuses for the past few years and they have chosen to remain anonymous due to the serious consequences some people have experienced who have spoken out against Scientology using their real names. Although I have been critical of them in the past, having observed their present activities, my views on them have somewhat mellowed in light of this new information. I do also acknowledge that they have done some good in exposing abuses and giving a forum to ex-Scientologists who have come to some of the well-attended protests and spoken out, using their own names. Their existence happened to coincide with the defection of several people who were in the top echelon of Scientology management, so these two factors working together, even though not all of those defectors support Anonymous, have produced some very hard hitting and highly public exposures. They fall into a gray area, however because some of their behavior, such as the infamous Operation Slick Pubes [I will spare people here the details of that caper, but those who are curious can Google it] is not behavior I condone, nor do all members of Anonymous even condone it. Anonymous is a very loosely knit group that has a diversity of different sorts of individuals. Some are decent, idealistic people who take a stand against abuses and for free speech whereas others clearly are not, so it’s a mixed bag.

My point here is that anonymity can have both positive and negative consequences. However, the anonymous posters in my case, have clearly crossed the line since they have posted malicious lies about me with no even remote basis in fact. The US Constitution protects the right to anonymous free speech but it does not protect the right to maliciously lie about someone.

Although a few internet trolls might also be jumping in on the action (I’m not stupid, I know this) it is not the internet trolls that are driving this operation. They are just jumping on an already strongly existing bandwagon. In some cases, information has been posted that had not been known on the internet that no troll would have had access to. What I am experiencing here is a reaction from certain people who are very upset about my criticism and if I allow these kinds of attacks to silence me, this sends the message that anonymous followers of therapy gurus who who are upset that their guru has been questioned and criticized can successfully intimidate people into silence by their online cyber-stonings. I refuse to accept that. If that means the end of my professional career (note that I wrote if, not saying that it necessarily is), then the shame is on the profession that would shun someone for taking the stances that I have. Time will tell if this is the case.

Is Freedom of Speech for Sale in the United States of America?

Following my recent experience with the court system in the case of Ronald Federici v Monica Pignotti et al., I would have to regretfully say yes, in my opinion. I want to state at the outset, however, that I am in no way blaming this on the judge or any of the lawyers. They were  doing their jobs to the best of their ability and working, as they had to, within the limits of the law as it exists and they all did a fine job. This posting is in no way meant as a criticism of them. This posting is about a much larger problem that exists within our system that is not the fault of any particular individual. In my opinion, this system needs to change. Please note that this posting is an expression of my opinions and the facts, as I best understand them.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, aka SLAPP lawsuits are presenting serious threats to our constitutional rights. Here is an excellent FAQ on SLAPPs for those unfamiliar with the term.

The bottom line is that in our system, as it presently exists, anyone from a state that does not have strong anti-SLAPP legislation (which is most states) can sue anyone else from any other state, for any reason and the only option that person has is to either go through the tremendous expense of filing the necessary papers to have the case dismissed or do nothing and have the Plaintiff win a default judgment. In some cases, such as Rajagopal v Does, an attempt is being made by a California plastic surgeon to have multiple anonymous internet posters identified who posted critical comments about her on the internet. No defendants are named in this case. An article critical of her practice was published in a San Francisco paper, but that publication was not sued. Instead, anonymous commenters were targeted. Dr. Rajagopal filed her case in Virginia and although in the complaint, the assertion was made that some of the “John Does” may be in Virginia, as far as I could determine, no evidence was presented that this was the case. On the contrary, it would make more sense that any patients or direct competitors would be residents of California and that the case would belong in California. However, the problem is that California is one of the few states that has strong anti-SLAPP legislation. The existence of such legislation makes it much easier for defendants who are sued without basis to not only get their cases speedily dismissed, but also to get reimbursed for their legal fees. This is very difficult and expensive to do in states such as Virginia with no anti-SLAPP legislation. The attorneys for one of the “John Does” has filed a motion to quash the subpoena that would request the revelation of the names of the John Does. Fortunately this “John Doe” has attorneys from the Virginia ACLU and attorneys from other organizations in California concerned with free speech who have taken an interest in this case and hopefully they will be able to successfully quash the subpoena. The outcome is pending. The lawyer representing the Plaintiff, Domingo Rivera, is the same lawyer who represented Federici in Federici v Pignotti et al.

In my case, Federici v Pignotti et al, Virginia psychologist Ronald S. Federici, PsyD, who touted himself in his complaint as an “internally [sic] renowned” expert, sued five individuals, one non-profit organization and 10 John Does for defamation, tortious interference (interference with business), conspiracy to injure in trade, business and reputation. None of the defendants are from Virginia, nor do they do business in Virginia, own property in Virginia or have any ties to Virginia that would give this state jurisdiction over them. Two defendants and the non-profit are from Colorado, one from Nebraska, one from New Jersey and one (me) from Florida. The case was ultimately dismissed on the grounds of jurisdiction for all defendants and for failure to state a claim for Mercer and Pignotti. The reason the latter was only for two of us is that the other defendants did not include that in their pleadings and thus, the judge did not consider or rule on that basis for those defendants.

The bottom line is, that although ultimately the defendants in Federici v Pignotti et al did successfully have the case dismissed, it has cost each of the defendants dearly, financially, to hire competent legal counsel to accomplish this. Had we ignored it, Ronald Federici would have won a default judgment that would have followed us all around for the rest of our lives. Had we attempted to go pro se (not hire a lawyer and represent ourselves) it is likely Federici would have prevailed, since not being lawyers ourselves with experience with the Virginia court system, it is highly unlikely we could have acquired the necessary information and knowledge of the Virginia court system, precedents, statutes, etc. to successfully argue this case.  So really, our only option, if we wanted to preserve our right to free speech, was to hire attorneys and go through a very expensive process. Since the dismissal of this case, anonymous posters who appear to be supporters of Federici, have been gloating about this, even though ultimately the case was dismissed. In my opinion, there ia a major flaw in our court system that would allow this to happen. A Federal judge found that Virginia did not have jurisdiction over any of us and he also found that Ronald Federici failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted for two of the defendants, yet we have no viable recourse to recover our attorney fees. We can try to file a motion for reimbursement or we can even try to sue for malicious prosecution but again, that would require even more legal expenses with very uncertain chances for success. Ultimately, we could be out even more legal expenses if we chose to go that route. Therefore, essentially what has occurred is that what is supposed to be our natural right to freedom of speech was something we had to pay dearly for in legal fees to defend ourselves.

Again, this is not the fault of our excellent judge who I feel very lucky to have gotten and I’m not just saying that because he ruled in our favor. This judge, the Honorable Gerald Bruce Lee, has an excellent reputation for being fair and thorough and an internet search of his name reveals rave reviews from lawyers who feel privileged to have worked with him. However, he can only work within the limits of the current system. The same applies to our attorneys.

These cases illustrate that even being from a state that has strong anti-SLAPP legislation is no protection for residents of that state, since they can be hauled into court in other states that do not have such legislation and forced to defend themselves. That is why the bottom line is that nothing less than anti-SLAPP legislation on a Federal level will do. Until such a time such legislation passes, freedom of speech will continue to be, essentially, for sale in the United States and no one is immune.

One of the main reasons anti-SLAPP legislation is opposed is that people are concerned that this would deprive people with legitimate grounds for defamation of their rights to due process. In the book, The Google Bomb, attorney John Dozier urged people to not support such legislation. As a victim of internet defamation and cyber abuse myself, I support, appreciate and agree with much of what Dozier had to say in that book. In spite of all that has transpired, I still think there is a valid place for the work that lawyers like John Dozier and Domingo Rivera do when they represent actual victims of internet defamation and I am sure there are people they have helped and done good for.  As strongly as I disagree with Domingo Rivera on the above-two cases I mentioned, if I were ever to hear from a victim of cyber defamation in Virginia who wished to sue, I might even consider referring that person to Domingo Rivera since this is a highly specialized area of expertise that few people have. However, I disagree with Dozier on anti-SLAPP law.  Anti-SLAPP law, as I understand it, would not apply to people who are able to state valid claims, claims upon which relief may be granted. What anti-SLAPP legislation would do is prevent people from filing baseless claims against others in a court of law, forcing defendants to hire lawyers at tremendous cost. Such lawsuits can be financially devastating to the average person and since most people are not wiling to pay that price for freedom of speech, they ultimately end up settling and their criticism is silenced. To me, no price is too high to pay for freedom of speech and thus, I am willing to do everything legally within my power to raise funds to defend myself and turned down an offer to settle the case. However, most people do end up settling such cases and their freedom of speech is chilled.

Anti-SLAPP legislation on a Federal level would be an excellent start to preserving freedom of speech on the internet and in the United States. I say “start” because defendants would still have to initially pay attorneys legal fees to file the necessary motions to dismiss and be reimbursed. There doesn’t seem to be any way around that unless legislation were passed to provide civil litigants with public defenders, as is done in criminal cases. That kind of legislation, however, would be highly unlikely to be passed, especially given the current budget crises and necessity of cutting the budget, even as it currently exists. That would not be a solution I would even support, especially since there is a problem, even in criminal cases with the quality of public defenders.

The way the current system is, if you are poor, you do still have the right to freedom of speech, of course, but that right will come to a grinding halt as soon as someone decides to sue you for what you have to say, even if the suit is groundless. I don’t know what the ultimate solution is, but this is a problem that deserves much more attention, brainstorming and debate.  I don’t think the average person even realizes how serious this problem is and anyone who cares enough to speak out publicly on a given issue could be placed in such a predicament.

For those interested in supporting anti-SLAPP legislation at the Federal level, here is an informative website on the proposed Citizen Participation Act (HR 4364). Especially relevant to the present discussion are:

B. PROTECTIONS FOR PETITION AND SPEECH ACTIVITY.
The Citizen Participation Act protects both petition activity and speech or conduct in connection with an issue of public interest with a set of procedural mechanisms. An “issue of public interest” includes any information or opinion related to health or safety; environmental, economic or community well-being; the government; a public figure; or a good, product or service in the marketplace.

The proposed Act allows a defendant to bring a special motion to dismiss the lawsuit at an early stage in the proceedings. The defendant must show that the lawsuit against him arose from his protected speech or petitioning activity. The plaintiff must then demonstrate that her claim is both legally sufficient and supported by a sufficient prima facie showing of facts to sustain a favorable judgment. If the plaintiff fails to meet this burden, the lawsuit is dismissed.

The hearing and the ruling on the motion are expedited, and discovery proceedings are stayed until the motion is resolved. A defendant who loses the motion to dismiss has the right to an immediate appeal, and a claim dismissed on the motion must be dismissed with prejudice.

and

E. FEES AND COSTS.
A party who prevails on a special motion to dismiss or quash may recover the costs of litigation, including reasonable attorney’s fees.

and this is especially interesting, regarding bankruptcy since it is a very real possibility that some plaintiffs could try to use bankruptcy as an excuse not to pay up:

F. BANKRUPTCY NON-DISCHARGABILITY OF SLAPP AND SLAPPBACK AWARDS.

To ensure that a SLAPP defendant receives the court-ordered relief to which they are entitled, this provision makes fees awarded under the statute non-dischargeable in bankruptcy. Some states allow a SLAPP defendant to recover damages incurred in defending against a SLAPP, and this provision also makes these damages non-dischargeable.

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