Online Attacks: Everything You Need to Know if You’re Attacked Online

by | Mar 28, 2012 | Book Marketing Basics, Social Media for Authors

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At one time or another it could happen to all of us. We’re attacked online. Whether it’s an errant blog post, a misunderstood tweet, or something more serious it’s out there and if it’s coming up in search, it’s always bad news. Unfortunately, with the Internet you are often guilty until proven innocent.


I recently presented a webinar about this topic;  in the wake of the Komen disaster, everyone is wondering, “what if this happens to me?” Likely you won’t be as visible as Komen, or as viral, but at the same time when you’re attacked it all feels the same: bad.

A few years ago someone visiting my website was unhappy with the navigation. Candidly, she was right. It was just before our new site was launched (we were going live with the revised website a week later) and some of the pages ended up in dead links. With an older site this is bound to happen. She was irritated by this and decided to lash out by putting up a YouTube video showing the faulty navigation. She said we were marketing experts and we should know better. In the end, she was right which is why we were redesigning the site. Her complaint, however, should have been brought to us directly and not put up on YouTube. The video was a painful eight minutes long, during which time she blasted us for not knowing our own website, offering a link (and a promise) that went nowhere. It was horrifying. She finally took the video down, and I’ll explain in a minute how we got her to do that.

Different types of attacks:

First, it’s important to know the difference between an online attack and a difference of opinion. We’ve worked with authors who have gotten bad reviews and wanted them pulled. A bad review is not an online attack, it’s someone’s opinion of your product or book. They didn’t like it and it’s their right to voice that. There have been cases where an author has gotten Amazon to pull a highly negative review but that’s for another article.

If the attack is about something you did wrong, make it right, let the person know and move on. We’ll cover this more a bit later.

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Attacks can show up in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are on Facebook, other times they are on Twitter, LinkedIn, a blog, or on YouTube.

Keeping Track

Most of us won’t have to worry on a daily basis if we’re attacked online. Still, it’s never a bad idea to know what’s being written about you in general. I recommend getting Google Alerts (, it’s free and an easy way to know what’s been written about you or even when a review pops up of your business, product, or book. You should get Google Alerts on your name, your URL, and your blog URL – that way you’re covered if someone cites just your URL or your blog and not your name. This happens to us a lot if someone is referencing a blog post on our site.

You’ve been attacked, what happens now?

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Image via CrunchBase

1) Who is attacking you? First, define who is attacking you because it might not be worth your time to pursue. We had a situation a few years ago where one of my Twitter followers asked me to market him for free (no kidding); when I didn’t, he started attacking me on Twitter. We reported him to Twitter and he was shut down, but that’s the extent of what we did. Now he continues to start up new Twitter accounts and tries to follow us, but he is always blocked. I didn’t spend a ton of time on this because he didn’t have a big enough online footprint for it to matter. If you’re attacked, determine the extent of their online footprint. If they don’t have a significant following they might just want to rattle a cage, or two. Again, if it’s something you did wrong, make it right. Otherwise consider someone with no following or a small online footprint (few followers, little or no Page Rank on their blog, no real Facebook presence) to be just a nuisance.  Sometimes  the Internet, and the anonymity it affords, gives people freedom and power they might not have had otherwise. Know the difference and respond when it matters.

2) Keep talking: If you identify the online attack and it’s credible, then start talking. Communicate on your blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook. Don’t stop talking. That’s the first thing many big companies want to do: go silent. Amazon did this several years ago when they made a blunder and more recently, the Komen Foundation did this, too. Silence is not golden. Be communicative. Depending on what the issue is, present your site. If it involves a fix, tell users when the issue will be addressed. If it’s a team member that had cyberspace chatting, be clear and specific about what actions will be taken to remedy the situation.


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3) Watch Hashtags: On Twitter, Hashtags have a way of going viral. Such was the case with #Komen and #amazonfail. Be on the lookout for a hashtag and be sure to search Twitter continuously at Hashtags can be really detrimental if left unchecked.  If there is a hashtag around this issue, be sure to follow it and respond to any and all appropriate tweets.

4) Communicate with them, directly: In the case of the gal who put the video up on YouTube, I opted to communicate with her directly and address her issue. I explained to her that I was sorry she’d had that experience and that we were fixing the situation. She wasn’t very responsive to my note, but she did take the video down 24 hours later and, to thank her, I sent her a copy of my book. You might think this is a bit of overkill but trust me, it’s always a good idea to be kind to watchdogs. Whether they are official or unofficial, some users are out there watching for scams, etc. In the end that’s what she was doing. We defused it and the situation was resolved. Perhaps emailing the person and having a dialog may be the last thing you want to do, but step back and realize that going directly to the source could fix this much faster.

5) Don’t I have rights? No, you don’t. Bottom line is that anyone can say anything at any time, which makes the topic of online attacks that much more timely and volatile. You can’t force someone to take down a horrible blog post about you, and in fact we’ve had clients who have hired lawyers to go after YouTube and have them take down disparaging videos – to no avail.

While we never want to think about being attacked online it does happen. Hopefully it will never happen to you, but much like having a battery-operated radio, candles, or a working flashlight, it’s better to be ready then to be caught in a storm and not know what to do.

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  1. Mary Jane Hurley Brant

    This is an important topic to authors and I feel validated even reading it especially since I also experienced it.

    When my memoir was published, I was attacked on Amazon by a family member on my husband’s side who had actually read my manuscript prior to its publication and praised its authenticity. It felt like an unholy sucker punch and I was dazed for several days by the betrayal.

    But I pulled up my big girl pants, huffed and puffed and got Amazon to remove the remarks. Days later, three other ridiculously negative reviews shot up. Two of the three were written by the same person twice but one was under a false name.

    It was then I realized the futility of doing battle with jealousy and I made the conscious decision to take the spiritual highway knowing every word I wrote was true and that the emotional cost to my soul not to have written the book – and deliver its messages both practical and psychological – would have been far greater.

    I will add that I also called a friend, who is high up in the publishing world, and asked him his thoughts before my emotional surrender. His advice was to let the negative ones go because there were so many strong positive reviews. It was solid counsel from someone who knew much more than I as a first time published author.

    I was grateful then to him and remain so today.

    Thank you, Penny Sanservieri,for writing this edifying article.

    • Paula

      Mary Jane,

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your story. Your insights as someone who’s been there are invaluable!

  2. Delilah

    Very good to speak of this and for all of us who do business online to read and take in. At any time, any one of us could be faced with a similar negative situation and it’s good to know how to handle it and plan for it in advance.

    I agree with Mary Jane, sometimes it’s best to not fuel the fires by making a big deal out of negative comments. With the lifespan of a topic on the internet being quite short, most of the time it blows away and business goes on.

    Thanks, Penny, for baring your incident and handling it so professionally!

    • Paula


      Thank you for stopping by!

  3. Judith Briles

    Wow, I was really glued to your article. Not only is the topic interesting and timely but it also makes a very huge sense. I love your advice and I agree that if indeed we would stop talking, people think we are guilty and the issue will end with us on the bad side.


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