The Real Rip Off

The Real Rip Off

Recently I became the subject of an Internet smear campaign by an unhappy patient. In fact, it’s more than a smear campaign, to me it’s cyber bullying and extortion. It has nothing to do with malpractice or the care and treatment given to the patient, although that is what the patient claims. The trigger was simply asking him to pay his bill–nothing more than that. You can read The Real Story of Mr. M here.

After being turned over to a collections agency, the patient started an Internet campaign containing false accusations against me and even my staff. He had threatened to do this in an email if I didn’t stop the collection agency. A blatant extortion attempt. (Click here to view just one of Mr.M’s accusations.)

While my initial reaction was one of disbelief, I weighed the possible damage to my practice and to my reputation, along with the cost of a lawyer or to expense of hiring one many reputation marketing companies who have contacted me. In the end, I decided not to give in to the threats, the bullying or intimidation.  Not because of the principal, but because it’s the right thing to do, but neither do I wish to wage a cyber war of words.

As a doctor providing a service you get the occasional unhappy patient. However, if you do something egregious that harms the patient, most go to a lawyer. And if the patient has a case, a lawyer takes it on contingency. Of course, like most, I like to believe that an honorable business will typically try to make things right. And I believe that is what happens in most cases.

The Internet, however, has thrown a new wrinkle into the mixture. Even if you’ve done nothing wrong, even if you tried to resolve the case, anyone at anytime, even an anonymous person can say what they want.  After 23 years in practice this is the first time I’ve had to deal with something like this. There doesn’t seem to be any procedure in any medical book I have that covers this.  I wasn’t sure what to do and still am not sure. I spent more than a few sleepless nights worrying about this.  In the end I decided not to give in.

It used to be that the power of the press belonged to those that owned one. The Internet has put a press in the hands of everyone who can find a connection. This is good.  It’s nice to have the Internet to post opinions, views and complaints. I’m doing that right now. The Internet has leveled the playing field. I believe in the freedom of speech, but when it’s used to spread false accusations, used to threaten, to bully or intimidate, then  I feel it goes beyond the protection of the first amendment.

Recently more and more people are beginning to stand up. The real rip off can be to a reputation, a business, a person’s peace of mind. Currently Google is being sued to release the name of a person using the internet to defame someone. A television show recently reported on a guy in Minnesota that urged people to commit suicide in front of their Webcam and even told them how to do it. There are cases of teenagers committing suicide because of cyber bullies. We can only hope that lawmakers will begin to address the issue of using the Internet in this fashion.

A Few Questions

Should Web site owners be allowed to hide behind their site’s disclaimer while visitors defame others? Does suing for libel help, especially if the person, such as my tormentor, has nothing? Is it really extortion if a person threatens to use Internet to ruin your name and your business unless allowed to get free medical care. It is a matter for the police?

Unfortunately, I do not have the answers. If you own a small business or medical practice contact me and let me know what you did or would do? I’m interested in from hearing from you.

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