All right. And I am back. OK. Yes, since you've thought about it and you feel like you're OK having your name in the story, do you want to talk at all more about that? Yeah, I'm fine, OK. I just needed to think things through so that if it's a line. Right, you fight the bear head on or do you stay hidden? So my my initial reaction not to have my name there was I don't want to poke the bear.
From The New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily. Today, a case study in how easy it is to destroy a person's reputation online with lies and how hard it is to hold the individuals and Web sites who publish those lies accountable. My colleague Cashmere Hill tells the story of a single family that tried to fight back. It's Tuesday, April 6th. So now that we're talking to you, do you mind us walking me through of what happened?
I'm I'm going to start in the middle. OK, because it's the easiest place to start. Cashmere. Tell me about Luke Grillo, so Luke lives outside of Montreal, and he is an IT guy. He has a son who is in college now risking, you know, a normal, nice Canadian guy. But a few years ago, his wife was talking on the phone to her father. Just a normal.
How are you doing that calls her father is in his eighties, and he seemed like he was really agitated from what Luke was picking up. He kind of just listening in on the call.
And he tells her that people in his social club received emails saying that his two sons were pedophiles and his father in law was just really upset about this because it wasn't true.
And then there was also some some things about my wife and I.
And I grabbed the tablet and started searching and saw what was written about her and I crazy things that they had scammed people, sold them Katy Perry tickets and then never delivered them.
And my instinct was just to laugh it off like it's some nut out there and just ignore the note. We'll move on to somebody else to worry about.
But then we Google this son.
And then I saw that post and there were these horrible things written about him, as well as accusing our son of being a pedophile. And how does a 17 year old and that's when Luke got really upset because for his son, his son is just starting out in life, is going to be dating and going to university. And he was just really worried about how this was going to affect his son's opportunities.
So there's no way that I could sit this one out. The young man who at some point is going to start his career. So that's that's how I got involved.
And where is he seeing these posts? What kind of websites? They're not on site you would normally visit. The probably most famous one was rip off report, which is kind of if you've been scammed as a consumer, you can complain there. The other ones were like busted cheater, cheater board dating complaints, deadbeat registry deadbeats exposed, just kind of ridiculously named sites that no one's visiting. They kind of exist almost just to show up in people's Google results.
So it's kind of low rent as these sites sound. These horrible claims are still coming up pretty prominently when Luke Googles his family.
Yes, their low rent, but their high ranking. And the other thing that had been done that made these attacks really effective was that whoever had done this took photos from social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook and then had written across the images, scammer, thief and pedophile.
So how does Luke and his family respond to these really awful posts and search results?
So they assume at first that, you know, if there's complete lies about you on the Internet, there's a way to get them taken down. So they start clicking around on these sites and basically get to a section of the site that explains how you can get things removed. It says that there's an arbitration process that cost two thousand dollars per report and there are a lot of reports about them. And it would just be out of their price range.
It sounds like their reputations are almost being held ransom by these websites. So how is that possible? How can these companies refuse to do anything and instead demand money? So it's possible because of this American law that dates back to the early days of the Internet, it's called Section two 30 of the Communications Decency Act, and it essentially protects websites from being liable for the things that their users post on the site. And this law was actually really important. It allowed something like Facebook to thrive without being worried.
Any time somebody posted something objectionable on the site, they would be sued. And so it was it was important in the early days of the Internet. But now, you know, it's being used by these sites that exist to host defamatory material, to claim protection for being liable for that material. And so, yeah, I mean, Loopt is looking at this and just thinking, wow, these sites are not going to do anything about this. So what does he decide to do?
My brother in law guy, I saw that he was attacked a lot. And we both have IP background, so we speak the same language. So he and I collaborated together to research all the posts and to try to identify who I might be.
So he decides to team up with his brother in law. I'm sorry to take more of your time. I will add his name to Guy Boston.
Oh, that's fine.
Who was also called a scammer and a pedophile. I mean, I imagine this is relative to how much time you've spent thinking about this is probably a small amount of time that you're talking to.
And what should we know about this guy? So Guy Babcock lives in the U.K. He actually lives in a little village outside of Oxford. Like one pub and no stoplights. He used to own a little ice cream parlor, an idyllic life. But now he's called a pedophile very prominently online and he gets super worried about this. I got it.
A security CCTV and we got a dog.
Oh, really? Because there have recently been vigilantes who have gone after child molesters.
Now, I actually asked if there's any way to get a permit for a gun or not. And now the village is talking about it.
So Luke finds a very willing partner in his brother in law guy to try to do something about this.
Yeah, absolutely. So they take screenshots, they get all of the URLs so they can take all of that to the police.
So I've got this big document I can't remember. It was like 100 pages, documents. And I went to the police station, spoke to the I guess it's a desk officer. And he said, well, it's not illegal. Make sure it is. And he said it's a civil matter, it's not criminal, OK, what the document says. There's nothing that can be done. So I told. You're telling me that if I go online and start saying that you are officer are a pedophile, I am not breaking the law.
And he said, that's correct. Wow. Which, of course, I don't believe for a second. So the police in Canada don't seem very interested, but Luke and Guy just keep searching around on their own, looking at all these posts about them, looking for clues to see if they can find out who's behind this. Some of the posts mentioned family cottage, and you need to know the family to know exactly where that cottage was. I know generally where it is, but I don't know the town.
But the police mentioned the town and I thought, OK, somebody that knows the family well. And a couple of weeks into this guy, Babcock is, you know, very deep into his Google results. He's looking at a blog where he's been written about in the comments of this blog. And everything so far has been anonymous names they don't recognize. But this time there's a photo. I sat at my desk for two minutes and just stared at the screen when I saw this photo.
It's a blurry photo, but it's a woman with long kind of reddish hair. She is wearing a black blazer and she has chunky earrings.
I actually felt lightheaded. I still remember it because that wasn't I was going to pass out, but I just felt lightheaded. I'm just sitting there like, you know, my awake, like all this stress about worrying about who is it, you know, and who could hate us so much and who would be doing something like it just all made sense to me.
All of a sudden it was a woman who had not seen in three decades. Do you remember much about her?
Yes, she was a pain.
And her name is Nadir Ortiz. So that's the middle. I told you, I'm going to start at the middle and then I'm going to go to the beginning of the story. So what does the family know about Nadir Otus? So back in the 90s, a family owned a real estate office and they hired Nadir Otus as a real estate agent. And at first she was great. She was ambitious, very respected in the office, was winning awards.
But then over time, her behavior changed in her performance deteriorated. Her office got very messy. And so the Babcock's basically went in and there was just dirty laundry and like half eaten food. And then this really concerning incident happened where a homeowner's signature had been forged to keep the house on the market. It was Lydia Odyssey's case, and that is that you can't do that. And so they immediately fired her. But the really weird thing happened years later.
Guy Babcock's father's neighbors got these anonymous letters in the mail that said that he was roaming the neighborhood at night and masturbating in the bushes. They were pretty convinced this was near OTUS just because they just didn't know anyone else who hated them that much. But then that was the late 90s and they had not heard anything about her or from her since then. But now it seemed like she was doing basically the same thing anonymously, defaming them online for the whole world to see.
So once Luke and Guy. Think they know who is attacking their family online? What do they do? So they Google Nadir Otus, they want to find out where she is today. And one of the first things they find when they Google her is a lawyer who's written a whole blog post about her, about how she has attacked the lawyer and her family and her colleagues, and that there are lawsuits against her and basically that they have been dealing with it for years.
So they reach out to the lawyer. And it turns out that this lawyer in the many other people affected were very certain it was new to your office, but they didn't have a lot of proof. And now here comes Luke with a photo of Nadir artist. And it was just exactly what they needed. And they said, just send us everything that you have. You have to realize there are new posts going up every day about a lot of people.
It's just an incredible volume of posts. And the lawyers aren't really capable of getting their arms around it because they don't have a techie on their legal team. And so Luke decides he's going to be the tech guy. He is going to keep track of all the new posts that are coming about his family, about the lawyers, and basically anyone who might have been targeted by Otus. If you remember how many people it was at that time, or I think it was like around 80.
And that was everybody in your family and then all the lawyers. Correct. And and some of the lawyers, family as well.
So Luke just goes into overdrive. He teaches himself a new coding language called Python that can essentially go through all the sites and keep track of new posts and then manually went through every single entry wound to determine if it was a defamatory posts or one that we should just ignore. And what is the allegation? And this is a date. What was the date?
It becomes like a second job for him.
I would start working in the morning at 5:00 until my my regular day workday would start. And then at six o'clock at night, I'd go back and work on this till around midnight or one o'clock, sleep a few hours and start the whole thing again the next day.
Wow. And he just starts discovering that it affects more people than they realize. There are thousands of posts. I mean, it was just mind blowing. I've written about online defamation in the past, but I had just never seen something like this at this scale. One person writing about this, many people in publishing this many posts, I mean, it was a super spreader event and it just kept spreading. I heard from new victims as I was reporting the story.
Distant relatives of the original targets who had gotten caught up in it. And it was very devastating for the people affected. Did you ever try to reach out to her or just talk to her directly to get her to stop doing this? I did want to reach out to her quite a few times. Every time that I wanted to reach out and say, why are you doing this, what have we done to you and whatever we may have done, I'm sorry, that is causing you that much that much pain and anguish that you feel the need to attack us in this manner.
But I never did. I came to realize that with somebody that harbors a grudge over a close to 30 year period, somebody that attacks you in a way that she's attacking us. There is no way to reason with this individual. It's too deeply within them to attack.
Hello, hello, this is this is Cashmere Hill calling from The Times. Yes, how are you? We'll be right back. This episode of The Daily is supported by Now What's Next, a podcast from Morgan Stanley that helps make sense of life during and after the pandemic to chart what's changed and where we might be headed. Host Sonari Glinton talks with everyone from restaurant owners to therapists to astronauts, even third graders, about the opportunity we have now to rethink some age-Old assumptions and create a better world search for now.
What's next, wherever you listen to podcasts.
I'm Jenna Wortham. I'm Wesley Morris. We are two culture writers at the New York Times and we host a podcast called Still Processing. And every week we talk about the way popular culture connects to life, music and movies, TV, Tic-Tac and books and politics, sometimes pretty much whatever we're grappling with and all the themes that run through it. Gender, race, identity, you name it, we're on it.
Jennae, the reason I love talking to you is because I love the experience of you defying my personal physics by changing my mind. You know how they say like the kitchen is where you want to be during a house party? Yeah, like our show is the kitchen. Our show is the defense. Everybody else is out here tweeting. We're having the damn conversation. You can listen to still processing wherever you get your podcasts. We're in the kitchen.
Due to our record, the call again. Yeah, go ahead. So, Kazmir, you eventually get Nadira us on the phone yourself. What do you end up learning from your conversations with her?
So I spent many hours on the phone with her and learned very little. Can I ask where you are? I'm in Toronto. I would try to ask her questions about herself, just basic questions. Are you in front of a computer? And she was just very deflective. Why would you ask?
She denied writing any of the pedophile posts. I did. I didn't post that. I will not post anything about that and that I did not do. I denied that. But she admitted to a couple basically calling the lawyers idiots. So you say that you did write this post is a fraudster, lawyer, jackass, lawyer, honest and competent, unscrupulous, et cetera, et cetera. She really felt like she was the victim and that she'd been fighting for justice and wasn't getting it.
I'm willing to provide you with any information you want, but I really would ask that you please just don't use my name.
But she was very concerned about me writing about her. If you do a story on this story, using I mean, anyone who was my name, this is going to come up. I don't want it to come up.
She said, I don't want to be in The New York Times because if I'm in your story, it'll come up and Google Google is just devastating.
And I don't want this to come up in Google ads. I think being called a pedophile is the worst possible thing that can happen to somebody if it is.
So as challenging as these conversations sound, what are you able to piece together about her life?
Based on my reporting, this is what I learned.
She had grown up outside of the Toronto area. She became a real estate agent in the eighties and kind of broke through in a male dominated industry. She started buying property in Toronto that she rented out to tenants. But at some point it seems like her life started to fall apart. In late nineteen ninety two, there was an incident. Her brother seemed to have a psychotic break, and he accused his mother of being part of a devil worshipping cult and he ended up shooting her in the hand.
And this happened two months before Nadir Odyssey's fired by the Babcock's. So around the time that her work life is starting to collapse, it sounds like her personal life is also starting to collapse.
Yes, and then in the next two decades, she just falls off the map. I really couldn't find much about her. A relative told me basically during this time that her family is trying to get her help, that they were trying to get her to go into mental health treatment, but she didn't want to do that. And so when she reemerges, it's in court records. There's an assault charge, there's a restraining order. She's starting to have financial problems.
She can't make the payments on her mortgages and she's foreclosed on. And that's when the online harassment of the lawyers begins.
And what do you learn about Nadir Odyssey's life since then? So in twenty eighteen, the lawyers decide to hire a private investigator to try to figure out basically where she lived, like how she was accessing the Internet. They're hoping to get evidence in our case that she was responsible. And the private investigator discovered that she was spending nights in homeless shelters and spending hours at the library using public computers, and she would be there from noon to midnight.
So the body of evidence is becoming pretty overwhelming here, that this is Nadir Otus behind this.
Right. And I became certain that she was after Post started appearing about me. You. Yes. On the same sites that all of her other victims have been written about. All of a sudden, there were posts with my photo saying I had slept with my boss for a year in order to get promoted, that I was a plagiarist. Other things I do not want to say on the daily. And then she started writing about my husband. Wow.
I thought I would be prepared. I had a feeling it was going to happen. It still felt horrible when it happened. What do you mean? I mean, I know it's not true, but you know what? If a source Googles me and then they see that about me and they might think, oh, it's on this ridiculous site, this probably isn't true. This is ridiculous. But I've interviewed people who know Luke and the Babcock's and ask them what they thought when they saw this.
And they said, yeah, it looked ridiculous, but where there's smoke, there's fire. And so maybe there's something to it. And that's what's so horrible about having lies about you on the Internet, because people see it and they think maybe there's something to it.
So suddenly you're not that much different than Luke and Guy and becoming a target of this harassment. But in your case, you're a published New York Times journalist. Your online reputation and footprint is much bigger than theirs and can probably sustain these attacks better. Then they can and they are dealing with far more of these posts than you are to what ends up happening to them, to Guy and to Luke.
So Luke and Guy had joined with all the lawyers in this big defamation lawsuit against Nadir OTUS. And at the beginning of this year, they won, which was a big deal because it meant that in the eyes of the law and the dear autist was responsible and it should help them get the post taken down. And then around the same time, I published a big story in The New York Times about all this, about what happened to them, about Nadir OTUS.
And then shortly after that, the police arrested the dear artist and charged her with criminal harassment and criminal libel.
And so taken together, what will that mean for the ability of this family to kind of rid the Internet of these many false, defamatory claims about them?
So it may seem like an ending, but it isn't. There are still thousands of posts about them, and they have this order from the court now which might help them remove some of the postings if there are sites that comply with that. But there are a lot of sites that don't. And there's still section to 30 that says they're not responsible for what people like Nadira artists write on their sites. I think there's one way of looking at this story where you just say, you know, Nadir Ortiz is this villain who's done so much harm to people, but to someone who clearly has a lot of problems.
And these sites have fed on those problems. And there's other people like her. And these kinds of things are going to keep happening. So how are the Babcock's doing right now? I mean, they're their nemesis, their tormentor has been arrested. So how are they feeling about all this?
I called Luke recently to see if it felt like it was finally over. You know, you'd been dealing with this for years. How did you feel when you found out that she had been arrested? It's hard to put in words a little bit of a mission accomplished type of feeling, but at the same time that you know that she'll be out of jail and that if history is proof of what's going to happen in the future. We know that she's going to resume her attacks and that she will probably intensify the attacks so it doesn't feel like it's over KAPONO very, very far from her.
I think we probably have many years ahead of us.
There are still these horrible things about him and about his son especially. That's what really bothers him. This is just occupied such a big part of his brain and his life for years now, and it just doesn't feel like it's over to him. What do you think it will take for you to have closure on it and just not have it kind of sitting in your brain every single day? To be honest, I'm not convinced that I'll ever have closure, but I hope that whatever happens next for her is a way for her to learn and to stop doing this.
But, you know, inside of you, you'll always worry that perhaps new attacks are happening and you just don't know about them yet. So I'm not sure that I'll ever have closure at some point perhaps. I love my wife and I will buy a small place in the Caribbean where there no internet, no no telephone coverage. And we can just relax a little bit. Kasra, thank you very much. We appreciate it. Thank you for having me on.
Nadir Ortiz was released from jail in February, shortly after it appears that she was found her online attacks. In an upcoming episode, Kashmir examines the websites posting these defamatory claims and what can be done to stop them.
We'll be right back. Your team works better when they are empowered to work together, Money.com Wirkus is the platform for any team to run their work, see their impact and collaborate with their team. Money.com Wirkus gives teams the ability to easily create the tools they need to work effectively. Over 100000 organizations build workflows that push their teams forward on Monday. Dotcom, from a bird's eye view of your work to insights on your team's capacity. It's all on money.com.
To start your free two week trial, go to money.com. Here's what else you need to know today, do you believe that the defendant followed departmental policy five dash three or four regarding de-escalation? I absolutely do not agree that. On the sixth day in the murder trial of Derek Chauvet, the chief of the Minneapolis Police Department, and Chauvin's former boss Madera Arredondo testified that Chauvin's actions towards George Floyd violated department policies and were wrong by every imaginable measure.
That action is not de-escalation. And when we talk about the framework of our sanctity of life and when we talk about the principles and values that we have, that that action goes contrary to what we're taught.
The testimony highlighted the difficulty that children will face in persuading the jury that he was doing his job when he pinned Floyd to the ground with his knee last May for more than nine minutes once there was no longer any resistance.
And clearly when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless to continue to apply that level of force.
To a person. Prone doubt handcuffed behind their back. That that in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy is not part of our training and it is certainly not part of our ethics or about.
That's it for The Daily, I'm Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow. Dana Farber, Cancer Institute notes that by asking the right question, you could get an answer you never imagined, like Dr. William G. Kaylan Jr., who won the Nobel Prize for a question that showed how cancer cells hijacked the body's systems to get the oxygen they need. This not only led to a new class of oxygen regulating drugs for kidney cancer patients, it may even impact heart disease, anemia and macular degeneration.
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