Online personal and reputational attacks, threats and disparagement, unfounded allegations, disinformation campaigns, impersonation schemes, disturbing online threats, and harassment are not the type of risks many of you encounter online.
Individual clients often are surprised by the extent of sensitive and detailed personal information available about them online – especially people with children and close family members who are active on social media.
Corporate clients have been surprised, at times, to discover the true identities of the forces arrayed against them. Through our investigative work, we frequently establish that seemingly discrete and unrelated actions are, in fact, part of coordinated campaigns designed to undermine business initiatives.
Many clients come to us with misinformation or misunderstandings about the feasibility and strategic advisability of changing or removing internet content. Certain steps may improve privacy and promote safety, but other actions that clients might be contemplating may serve only to exacerbate the problem. We strive to ensure that our clients understand all of the risks and benefits of potential courses of action, so that they are properly informed about the range of options available.
Companies often find themselves simultaneously facing multiple serious crises at the same time – for example, Congressional hearings, pending government regulatory action, class action lawsuits, negative press coverage, public protests, or calls for a boycott.
In some cases, such events may stem from, or be driven and accelerated by, a coordinated disinformation campaign being waged against them. In those situations, we work to identify and profile the various actors arrayed against our client and to expose the sometimes-hidden connections and collusion among them.
More than once, a self-proclaimed “consumer watchdog group” has turned out to be a front for plaintiffs’ attorneys who are recruiting litigants. And purportedly “grassroots” activists or advocacy groups sometimes are funded by moneyed interests adverse to our client for their own reasons.
We also have encountered cases where complaints filed with law enforcement about a client’s business practices have been made in bad faith by agents of a competing business. Similarly, regulatory action or negative publicity might have been initiated by a dossier of negative or misleading information circulated by short-sellers trying to drive down our client’s share price.
For example, we assisted a company targeted by short-sellers who generated bad publicity —based upon false allegations — to drive down the client’s stock price. They masqueraded as journalists, collaborated with a competitor company, initiated false claims, and generally created havoc that mystified the company until they called us. Through our research, we were able to identify the bad actors and their coordinated disinformation campaign and take steps to expose their activities and place them on the defensive
Prominent political figures are often subject to false allegations – particularly during hard-fought campaigns. The candidate and their trusted staff members often know in advance from where such false claims are likely to arise. We can proactively prepare to combat such claims before a media crisis ensues. In a recent engagement, we were able to discreetly obtain verifiable facts demonstrating that certain claims circulating on fringe platforms were false. As a result of our research major mainstream media outlets – recognizing the falsity of the allegations in question – were dissuaded from amplifying them.
Aside from our political work, we also have provided related services to high net worth individuals. For example, the chief executive officer of a U.S. company retained IGI when a then-unknown individual impersonated the client online, in an effort to disparage the client. We were able to identify the culprit and assist with content removal. In another case, a member of a prominent family in the entertainment industry was targeted by conspiracy theorists who falsely claimed that the family member was participating in illegal activities.
They attempted to publicize this “fake news” on various social media platforms. In addition to baselessly maligning the family member’s reputation, this posed a potential security risk – as we have seen in recent years, conspiracy theorists sometimes act not just from behind a computer screen, but, on occasion, in the physical world as well. We helped identify and locate the bad actors, remove personal identifying information and images from the internet, and coordinate residential security briefings to provide the client with peace of mind.