When Cran Campbell saw an excerpt from a newspaper article about him on Google redirecting whoever clicked it to an internet dating website, he thought it seemed odd, but not especially offensive.
“What would that article have to do with dating?” the 69-year-old Langley resident wondered.
Then he clicked on it.
“This is not a dating site,” the web page said.
It went on, in fairly crass language, to describe what it was actually intended for.
“They wanted you to sign up for a membership,” Campbell noted.
There was no sign of the newspaper article, which was about Campbell’s campaign against online hate speech.
Instead, it had been built to deceive online search engines.
He’s since found at least three other sites where the text of the article pops up in the Google search engine for sketchy sites that have nothing to do with news or fighting hate speech.
“They’re taking my name and linking it with pornography.”
Campbell has emailed the newspaper in question about the misuse of its article, advising it of a potential copyright violation.
Online security experts have warned that internet readers need to pay careful attention to what they click on, especially web addresses, because unscrupulous website builders will use fake links to pose as something else in order to lure people to visit their sites.
During the last U.S. presidential election, for example, some foreign sites were pretending to be news sites and making up provocative stories about candidates in order to get people to click on their pages, which were set up to make money from online advertisers by charging a fractional amount for each page view.
Among other things, such sites can also contain malware that will masquerade as a sign-up or computer utility, anything from programs that can steal passwords to highjacking the computer so it becomes part of a networks used for illicit activities like denial of service attacks on websites.
Campbell has been keeping a wary eye on internet activity that identifies him by name ever since some internet trolls tried to link him to sex-related criminal acts.
He has since waged a drawn-out battle to clear his reputation.
When he spotted the accusations on a Craigslist chat site in 2016, Campbell flagged them for removal by clicking a “prohibited” link and Craigslist deleted the postings.
But the messages lived on, Campbell discovered, because internet search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo and AOL were still linking to the postings even though they’d been taken down.
The search engines were displaying the first few words of the now-deleted posts, which meant that anyone who did an online search for “Cran Campbell” could still see the claims.
It took several days of phone calls and emails before Campbell was able to get Google to remove the search entry.
He also managed to get Bing, Yahoo and AOL to do the same.
But the message then reappeared on another Craigslist internet site and so did the search link.
It took several months of repeated complaints to get the internet postings completely scrubbed.
Campbell suspected he may have angered someone by campaigning against hate speech on various Craigslist forums.
Since 2012, Campbell has been going after offensive and racist comments in the “rants and raves” section of Craigslist, flagging postings for removal and reporting them to police.
Asked what people can do about the misuse of their online identity beyond being vigilant, Campbell is blunt.
“There’s no help,” he said.
The law, as it stands, makes criminal prosecution unlikely in cases where someone suffers harm to their reputation online, Campbell said.
“Honestly, I’m fed up and I’m tired,” Campbell said.
When he went to the police about the fake criminal claims, he said he was told it was a civil matter.
“You’d better have money to spend to sue these people,” Campbell said.
He said the only thing that seems to work is to be persistent, to complain to anyone who might be able to do something, if only to get the issue on the record.
“This stuff has to be compiled,” Campbell said.
“Otherwise, nothing is done.”
If enough people complain to their MPs, and law enforcement officials, maybe, just maybe, it will produce changes to the law, Campbell said.