Calling People Out in the WordPress Community

Name and Shame Featured Image
photo credit: Adarsh Acc

The founder of WP Site Care, Ryan Sullivan, explains how a negative SEO campaign nearly took his business offline. Sullivan shares details behind the attack, how it affected the bottom line, and says it was someone in the WordPress community who orchestrated the attack.

Using some sophisticated techniques we were able to trace back to the source of the spam attack and unfortunately found out that the attack was started by someone within the WordPress community.

They did everything through a third-party, an internet hitman of sorts, to try to cover their tracks, but they weren’t quite careful enough and we were able to uncover where everything started.

Instead of naming the individual, Sullivan left a message aimed specifically at the person responsible, “The only reason I even mention it is so that hopefully, that person reads this, and knows that what they’re doing is impacting the livelihood’s of people and their families.” It’s this message which has me wondering, is it time to name and shame people in the WordPress community?

The Good

In my experience, the community rarely calls people out, even if they have routinely harassed others at a WordCamp. Instead, we usually find out about them through back channels. By calling people out, it warns others and makes everyone aware of the situation.

The Bad

Naming and shaming creates the potential for libel and defamation lawsuits. The internet has a long memory and if a person changes for the better, it will be hard to forget mistakes made in the past. It could hurt future employment opportunities as employers do background checks using Google. There’s likely a lot of unintended consequences as well.

Judge and Jury

I doubt the community will start calling people out, as it creates anger, grief, and drama. Besides, who are we to act as judge and jury? However, it bothers me to know that an unnamed person is negatively impacting the livelihood of WordPress businesses and people.

On one hand, I want to see the individual dealt with in the public sphere and turned into an example. On the other, I feel it’s probably not the best way to go about it. Maybe the system already in place is the best way to handle these types of situations? Write a post, raise awareness, and tell others who to watch out for in the back channel. What do you think?

25 Comments


  1. It’s unbelievable that people do things like this. I couldn’t imagine trying to grow my business focusing on taking down someone’s business. Such a negative way to go through life!

    Especially in the WordPress community, where so many people are willing to help without anything in return.

    Just one word…Karma.

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  2. Well of course, there is and always will be two sides to every story. As the song goes “Its all about the he said she said (insert expletive).” – No matter the case, we all have to remember that business is a lot like politics. You have the good, the bad and unfortunately the ugly.

    Thankfully though the good normally prevails, as was the case here. I do not necessarily think that calling someone out is a good thing, it could be but then again it could be a bad thing. Maybe through the so called “back channels” we might learn who it was, but until then, I think the story getting out may cause whoever did it to scurry away.

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  3. The whole topic seems pretty petty to me.

    There is more than enough work for everyone (if you have a reasonably decent promotion strategy in play). Unless someone’s business is hurting clients’ maliciously on purpose or otherwise, I find it hard to imagine anyone in the community would really go out of their way to harm someone’s reputation in any in-depth manner. Sure, a barb here or there is sort of par for the course, but that’s free speech for you… Deal, accept and move on.

    Seriously, if a person has that much “free time” for such nonsense, they are likely not going to be successful anyway–and they’ll die off of their own accord.

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  4. I don’t know why I’m surprised by this situation. Maybe because I’ve had such a wonderful experience in the WordPress community; otherwise, I think some people fighting dirty happens in business. It’s a shame but almost unavoidable and usually a sign the one attacked is very successful. At least that’s how I like to look at it.

    As for defamation and libel suits, if someone states the facts and has evidence to prove it, then there is usually nothing to fear. Scratch that. My Pollyanna has control of me today and is responsible for such a naive statement. It will always boil down to who has the better lawyer, and it’s best not to forget that.

    If it were me, I’m not sure what action I would take against the perpetrator but tend to think I would find a way to get even — legally of course. Probably go see a lawyer to find out what could be done. No, I’m not a lawyer, but one or two of them have saved my bacon a couple of times.

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  5. We have recently been targeted by credit card hackers over at CyberChimps. They’re using us to validate if a credit card is active, then selling the card numbers overseas. It’s completely messing with our cashflow and projections because what look like legit sales are actually fraud that months later gets pulled out of our accounts.

    I have no idea if anyone in the WordPress community is involved, I truly hope that isn’t the case, but I’m posting this merely to illustrate spammers and hackers are now targeting WordPress businesses for various reasons. It sucks.

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    1. This is a practice that credit card thieves have been using for a long time. Any credit card processing form that they can write a script for is in danger of having this happen. Probably not an active WordPress community member involved. That does really suck though, a site I managed went though something similar about 4-5 years ago.

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  6. What I’d really like to see is a step-by-step tutorial (preferably a really clear beginner-level one with screenshots etc) on how to find out if you’ve been — or are being — attacked… I’ve read a lot saying “check for any sudden surge of backlinks… …and check all backlinks to see if they are from good sites using Google webmaster tools etc”… But how? How do you do any of this? And what determines whether or not the backlinking sites are good or bad (beyond the obvious I mean: backlink from WPTavern = good. Backlink from russianspamcasinos-r-us.com = bad)? It’s all so confusing… Ryan has a nice graph at the top of his post (the one with the caption that reads “Orange line showing backlinks to wpsitecare”), but how would someone like me (who doesn’t know much about this type of thing) make one of these graphs? One more thing: whoever at Google made negative-SEO possible really should realize that what they’ve done is effectively give weapons to criminals – and put an immediate stop to it! The criminals are to blame for actually doing the harm of course, but equally so (if not more so) are the individuals at Google who armed them! Don’t Google realize how much harm they’re doing to people’s livelihoods and businesses by making this possible? :(

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    1. Any business that rely on traffic driven through Google to survive is doomed to fail. Never in history a private company has had so much power over the destiny of an entire economy. They change their algorithm and you are out of business overnight. If you want to build a serious long term business you must pretend that Google doesn’t even exists and build a marketing campaign based on other means of driving traffic, and consider every visitor coming from Google as a nice free gift.

      I’ve been in the SEO game, and I abandoned it because I was sick of Google and their lies. If they decide that you are disturbing their business or the business of one of the big ad spenders they manipulate the results and cancel you.

      Ryan’s error is to rely on Google. There’s no need of negative SEO to put you out of business. They change their algorithm: you are out. They mark your site as spammer as a result of an error: you are out. They think that your site has been hacked (maybe it wasn’t): you are out.

      It is of course hard to build a business without Google. You must use many sources of traffic, each driving a few visitors, instead of one driving many. You must work every day to build your audience. But once you’ve done it you have built a business that will last because you don’t depend on a single source of traffic.

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      1. Weren’t businesses built without the Internet…. before the Internet….? Good points @gidap.

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      2. Great post gidap, you are absolutely right!

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      3. Tell them gidap.

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      4. yes, it is super funny how people base their business on a free third party service and then complain when the third party changes the rules in a bad way.

        If you want to get traffic from google stop messing around with stupid SEO and just advertise on google.

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  7. The most committed members of the community form an ideological protective veil around the community that makes it impossible for newcomers to participate and take the community to new shores. It is easy for most committed members of the community to flip over to the dark side.

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    1. I must disagree with you on this point @Sudhir. I am a newcomer in the WordPress community, and I have found a lot of nice and supportive people. Jeff Chandler helped me one year ago when I contacted him through wpmentor.org, he was nice and gave me some insights that helped me start with the right foot in this community, I participate actively to wpchat.com where most of the participants are definitely not newcomers but no one has ever made me feel unwelcome or like a newcomer that has to stay silent and listen to the grown ups.

      I don’t know what’s your experience but I’ve found a fantastic community that I’m happy to be part of. Having said that, no one is perfect and you will always find bad people even in the bast groups.

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  8. It is not libel/defamation if it’s true.

    At a WordCamp-style event (not related to WordCamp/WordPress.etc,,,)…it was a technology event.

    I observe a male event participant mention to a female event participant, she mentioned at the session that just ended that she was having difficulties with something (I can’t remember), HE went up to her after the session, in the hallway and told her that “if you find things too hard then maybe you should go back to the kitchen sweetie” then grabbed her rear end and winked at her.

    I (and two other event participants) took out our phones and recorded. I then interrupted HE & She “conversation” and asked her to come over because I needed her help on something.

    I asked her if she is ok and if she could confirm what just happene, which she did, I then went to the event organizers. HE got kicked out almost right away.

    In situations like this, I WILL call someone out.

    If a competitor of cyberchimps is saying something bad wouth cyberchimps, then I will take it as competition trashing competition. The community will deal with things and depending on the trashing, will not use the competitor’s services.

    I think Ryan should call out the person(s) involved.

    How do we know that this “bully” will not do the same thing to others and Ryan being “victim #1 out of whatever”?

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  9. Call them out. In a case like this – it was clearly done maliciously – the community needs to know and if the perpetrator is not unmasked they will do it, or something similar again.

    Nasty, sneaky people like this take advantage of the goodwill of the community and expect not to be unmasked – if they thought there was a risk of being called out in public they wouldn’t do it.

    A conspiracy of silence allows people to get away with it over and over again. We must accept that there are going to be bad apples in the community and be able to deal with them.

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  10. I had faced a similar situation in past. That was why I recommended Ryan to go along with naming the company/person who is responsible. I don’t know if I am wrong or right, but what he might be facing at the moment would be far worse than what we can think of.

    I guess we should not allow people to just do whatever they want and get away with it so easily.

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  11. Jeff: as an old SEO guy, I can tell you that Ryan’s story is all too real. But also as an old SEO guy I can tell you that the “correct” response , is to just shore up your defenses against such things, not to engage the perpetrator. Remember one of the first lessons you learned about dealing with SPAM? “Unsubscribe” was just acknowledgement that the spammer had reached a working mailbox, and until tools like we have today (MailChimp, MailPoet, et.al.) were widely adopted, you needed a different strategy than the obvious/”easy” one.

    As for the Super-angle on this article (The WordPress Community calling someone out): I did a small promotional thing for http:/thewordpresshelpers.com pre-launch, via our Twitter accounnt, @WPHelpers. I’m sorry to report that the community very much called me out, on several fronts, for doing so. Just sayin’.

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  12. This is really sad, terrible behavior, and I want to know who the perpetrators are so I don’t even unwittingly support them, but I also want to know that is a fair conclusion that has been handed down and accepted by all involved. And until that happens, it’s just red meat, gossip, distraction, and needless collateral damage.

    While they’re all entirely different ethically and legally, actions like harassment, business sabotage, and gross negligence or deceit — really any illegal business practices, regardless of intent — all call for legal remedies. “Calling people out” (naming names) prematurely — before there has been a public admission from the person/company or a court filing that is public record — is not “mean.” It may be unethical. Mainly it is just stupid, not just because the initial allegations might be wrong (and libelous or defamatory) but because the reaction generated will surely derail any legitimate issues into libel/defamation claims, infighting and gossip, etc. It will maximize the negative impact for the greatest number of people and minimize the likelihood of achieving a just outcome.

    Once an issue is settled legally or in the process of litigation, if it’s a matter of public record then it’s available for public discussion and ideally some informed, fair-minded analysis. With the continued professionalization of the WordPress ecosystem, this is the way things inevitably will go. Throwing out red meat prematurely, even (especially!) when there are smoking guns and bodies on the ground, is the wrong way to go if we want to protect people with justice rather than angry internet vigilantism.

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  13. Regarding the Google and SEO discussion, in the days AT&T had a monopoly on phone service, they could have been ignored as well and believe me there was plenty of grousing about how unfair the telephone company could be and the outrageous fees they charged, and they did in fact stick it to customers. That is the perk of being a monopoly. But I don’t think too many would have gone so far as to say they were going to be without a telephone (or darn near) for their business and I don’t recall anyone not caring if their names were in the telephone book. That’s not a hill most business owners wanted to die on, and I suspect few will want to do that with Google as well.

    However, I heartily agree with the sentiment that streams of traffic, just like streams of revenue, should never be dependent on one source. That’s always been good business sense.

    The good news is that the mighty do fall if they don’t get it right. Thinking of the 1984 divestiture as I type this. So Google is not immune from a comeuppance if the business community eventually becomes sick of their control and does something about it through legal or political means. Should be interesting to see what happens with Ryan’s case. He may regret opening the can of worms of inviting the public into his situation, but now that he has, I hope he continues to keep us up-to-date on what happens.

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  14. I think this is a bit of a storm in a teacup myself and just creating drama where it need not exist. If someone is attacking your business, go to them, call them out on it and take action accordingly. Don’t create this drama of “mysterious somebodies in the WordPress community doing under-handed things”. It serves no purpose but to shock and scare. While I’m sorry to hear of what happened to WP Site Care, this does little for the community, except to fragment it.

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    1. Dave: Storm/Teacup notwithstanding (I kind of LIKE small, easily contained storms), there’s no mystery; The Twitter account I was working from is http://twitter.com/wphelpers. Go the the very beginning and read; I was crucified for having the nerve to have nerve.

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  15. Such a shame. We as the WordPress community are meant to build up, and encourage one another.

    If ever there was a way to ensure your demise within the WordPress community, this is it.

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