A young Saskatoon mom is speaking out against an American gossip website that posted vicious comments about her sex and social life, written by people she can’t identify.
"I was just so embarrassed. Yes — I have made my mistakes I have to live with … but I am back at school and trying to put this all behind me," said 23-year-old Kendra Olesen.
"None of it should ever be posted publicly like that — on a site where I can’t take it down."
Someone submitted an anonymous post about her last winter to the popular, controversial American site "The Dirty," run by self-described internet celebrity Nik Richie, who is based in Arizona.
Richie allows anyone to submit "dirt" about someone else, which he then posts, without verifying whether it is accurate. His site includes sections for several Canadian cities, with hundreds of posts about Canadians.
"I went on and was completely appalled at what I had seen," said Olesen.
The submission about Kendra claimed she drinks and drives and sleeps around, among other things. Several other people also posted rude comments, many who don’t know her.
"Everybody has partied. Everybody has gone out drinking and it’s just — why did they attack me so badly?" she said. "Half of it wasn’t even true."
The expose came a few weeks after someone — possibly the same person — keyed her new car, engraving it with derogatory names. Someone also messaged her friends on Facebook — under a fake name— claiming Olesen had a sexually transmitted disease, which she also said was not true.
Olesen said she thinks she knows who is responsible, but can’t prove it.
"This person clearly has some sort of long-held hatred towards me that I just can’t even describe. Because I could never do anything like that to somebody else," she said.
Olesen said she was so devastated by the post and comments on The Dirty — shown on a page with her name and pictures — that she attempted suicide by overdosing on prescription drugs.
"I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to leave my house. I was very withdrawn," Olesen said. "[The site] is ruining a lot of people’s lives — and it’s awful."
Her worst fear, she said, was that her six-year-old twins, whom she gave birth to when she was a teen, would see the posts.
"In a couple of years, all they would have to do is type in my name and that’s the first thing that pops up. I never want them to have to read that. Never," said Olesen.
Olesen lives with her parents — who adopted her children when they were born — and is now studying to become an engineer. She wrote to Richie, through his website, asking him to remove the posts about her.
"I heard nothing. I got nothing back," she said.
When B.C. teen Amanda Todd committed suicide after being tormented online, Olesen said she decided to go public about her ordeal.
"I am so much better now. I am getting the support that I need and the help that I need to get through this, but it’s just something I want gone forever."
Her mother said she is proud of Olesen for taking a stand and speaking out.
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"It’s affected our family — and her children — in such a way that we want to be able to make a positive, by coming forward and saying we don’t want this to continue," said Val Foulds-MacLeod.
"This has happened to my kid. It can happen to anybody," said Foulds-MacLeod. "It’s like a life of its own once this machine gets started … and there is not one thing you can do about it."
Richie has been sued and vilified by some critics in the U.S.
He declined to be interviewed by Go Public. However, he has publicly defended what he does, by pointing out there is demand for it.
"My site is a form of entertainment.… It’s a business," Richie said on the Dr. Phil show in 2010. "It’s a form of holding people accountable for their actions.
"I think it’s the new way of social media —and it is definitely revolutionary."
Canadians called 'whiny'
Richie’s lawyer told Go Public he’s received about a dozen letters from lawyers representing Canadians who want to sue him for defamation.
"You guys are very thin-skinned from what I can tell," David Gingras told Go Public.
"I get so many letters from Canadians and they are very, like, whiny. If you guys don’t like the internet then you are going to have to turn it off."
Gingras said that even if someone filed and won a suit in Canada, they wouldn’t be able to collect from The Dirty. The company has no assets in Canada and U.S. law doesn’t allow foreign defamation awards to be enforced there.
Gingras also said that what Richie is doing is perfectly legal in the U.S.
"This is a very black and white thing. Websites in the United States can’t be held responsible for material posted by users," said Gingras.
"A lot of people I’ve dealt with over the years have come to The Dirty and said, 'Look, I am begging you, please I am so hurt by this. And for whatever reason Nik turns a blind eye. He doesn’t help them. And ultimately they wind up being stronger for it."
Go Public emailed Richie, explaining Olesen had contacted him about taking her post down, but hadn’t heard back. He replied, saying he would remove it immediately.
"This is the first I have heard of it or of her … I will remove," Richie replied.
When Go Public told him Olesen was trying to turn her life around, he wrote, "Looks like the wakeup call worked then. Give Kendra my best and I wish her continued success. Post removed."
CBC email goes awry
However, at one point, the CBC became part of the story.
The CBC producer who first talked to Olesen wrote an email, intended for Go Public reporter Kathy Tomlinson, saying he still believed Richie is "the scum of the earth," adding "Creepy doesn’t begin to describe it."
- Using such language about the subject of a story contravenes CBC's journalistic standard of fairness, which requires that in our information gathering and reporting, we treat individuals and organizations with openness, respect and even-handedness.
The CBC producer mistakenly sent that email to Richie, who responded by posting the email exchange on his website, along with criticism of the CBC.
He also said Olesen’s post would stay up after all.
"So Kendra when this hate story comes out and the world wonders why I’m such an asshole your post is still up because of IDIOTS … the definition of true journalism," Richie wrote on The Dirty.
Olesen then wrote to Richie again, appealing to him directly, and soon afterward, he did remove the posts about her.
"This is happening even to people who are even younger than me," said Olesen. "I can’t even imagine what they are going through."
This story has been modified from its original version. Information has been added clarifying CBC journalistic standards.Oct 29, 2012 9:30 AM PT