Even after a foreign court’s intervention, an unemployed school teacher can’t stop his ex-girlfriend from ruining his life, online or off.
Lee David Clayworth, 35, told the CBC recently that Lee Ching Yan continues to post persistent, false and derogatory information about him. Online harassment is nothing new, but Clayworth said the things that have been said about him, including that he had sexual relations with underage students, have kept him from finding work.
"I feel not only shut out of my own profession — but any job I apply for," Clayworth, a Vancouver resident, said. "This is a dark place. It’s a very, very dark place to be … and I am powerless."
The trouble began in 2010, when Clayworth met and began dating Yan while teaching in Malaysia. When the pair broke up, Yan reportedly broke into Clayworth's apartment and stole his laptop. She then set about destroying Clayworth's reputation by posting nude photos of him online, sending emails to all his contacts, and pretending to be him. Clayworth also said she’s posted hundreds of comments on social media websites accusing him of "disgusting, even criminal, behavior."
Clayworth has the support of his former employers and the Malaysian court system, which ruled in his favor and tasked Yan to take down the content she posted and discontinue her harassment. But Clayworth said even after content get's taken down, she'll repost it again within hours. A judge eventually ordered her arrest for contempt of court, but she has since fled the country (allegedly to Australia) where she continues her campaign of harassment.
"I did a Google search of my name and I saw profiles listed saying … I am a psychopath, I am a child molester, a pedophile, I am involved with my students and so on — and then that just steamrolled. [...] I remember waking up in the morning and going online. Two hundred new postings would be there from throughout the night. And the things they said were the most hurtful."
A quick Google search of Clayworth's name makes the damage abundantly clear. The top site listed is LiarsCheatersRUs.com, a site where the jilted can trash their ex-partners. And the images that pop-up are none too flattering.
These search results have been the most damaging part of the ordeal. Malaysian courts have issued orders to Google, Yahoo, and Bing to make Clayworth's name unsearchable. But they have no power to enforce these rulings in the U.S., and the companies themselves are unwilling to do so.
Google told the Daily Dot it does not remove searchable terms because it does nothing to remove the original content. They recommend that users contact the sites hosting the information.
"Google’s search results are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the Web," said Google spokesperson Krisztina Radosavljevic-Szilagyi.
"Search engines do not have the ability to remove content or personal information directly from the Internet, so removing content from Google or another search engine would still leave the original content that exists on the Web. We do not remove content from our search results, except in very limited cases such as illegal content and violations of our webmaster guidelines."
Yahoo and Bing were not immediately available to comment on this story.
Part of what makes it tough for courts to remove content from search engines is that, under U.S. law, websites and search engines that merely host content are not legally accountable. This immunity has made it difficult for people who have been shamed or humiliated on the Internet to find justice.
While recently discussing the case of a Nashville family suing over a cruel meme involving their Down syndrome-afflicted son, Samford Law Professor Woodrow Hartzog said American libel, defamation, and false light laws have struggled to keep up with the changing Internet landscape.
"One of the frustrating things about Internet communications is that people who have been wronged or defamed don't really have a good answer right now in the law," Hartzog said.
Illustration by Jason Reed