There is absolutely no way that we can sift through and try to filter out whether or not someone is telling the truth or otherwise posting accurate and the most current information. You all know how long it can take a court case to work through and determine even the most simple set of facts…and even then the outcome may not necessarily be the best decision, right? We are not getting involved in the “he said, she said” mix. We ask that all individuals are truthful and honest in reporting their experiences and we like to believe that people will follow the rules. At the same time, just like speed limit signs, there are always going to be those that see rules as a challenge or a mere suggestion; but we aren’t the police. It is up to you all to DO THE RIGHT THING.
When stories come in that are perceived to be timely and ripe for consumers based upon topic, such Alert may be featured on the main homepage of the website. To be eligible for consideration, your story needs to fit the following criteria:
- The story is compelling and convincing.
- The story must be accompanied by a clear image (preferably high resolution) of a photo, drawing or cartoon that is related to the Alert subject.
We will not remove Alerts even when they are claimed to contain defamatory statements. We will not remove Alerts even if the original author asks us to do so. Also, contrary to what our critics would like to believe, we will NOT remove Alerts for money.
Some people have criticized this policy as being unfair, but we strongly feel this policy is essential, fair, and far better than the alternative – rampant censorship. It is ultimately up to the user/author to do the right thing and police their own behavior; and/or face the legal consequences as per the law.
We have many reasons for our policy, but here are three of the most important ones:
- Who are we to say what is true or not? We are not in a position to judge the credibility and truthfulness of these Alerts and related comments posted on our site. Except for statements clearly marked as “Editor’s Comments” (or otherwise indicated as being from us), all material posted on HolySmoke.org is created entirely by third party users of our site, not by us (this includes reports AND their titles). Because the Alerts and subsequent postings come from users, we are not in a position to know what is accurate and what isn’t. Of course, when people contact us to dispute the accuracy of something on our site, we have no way of knowing who they are or whether they are telling the truth. For that reason, we cannot simply remove Alerts and subsequent postings because one side claims that something in the Alerts or posting is inaccurate. Taking sides is not our role. We are not a judge and jury. We are not professional arbitrators.
- We strive to preserve information. We do not remove Alerts and subsequent postings because we believe this site is most effective when all complaints are maintained and preserved so that over time patterns of truly bad people and/or business practices are exposed. If we removed Alerts and subsequent postings upon request or after a certain period of time, this would provide consumers with less information to use when evaluating a company. Unlike other platforms and websites out there that remove posting after a certain period of time or charge businesses money to remove postings, many of which have BIG names and consumers think they are on their side, we maintain a permanent record of all complaints. This ensures that our viewers have more information rather than less.
- We don’t want consumers being bullied into taking an Alert or subsequent posting down. If we simply removed complaints upon request this would give companies an incentive to pressure authors to remove true and accurate Alerts and subsequent postings in exchange for money or simply to avoid a costly lawsuit. It’s a well-known fact that most people aren’t willing or able to spend $100,000 in legal fees defending a defamation lawsuit, so even when a person has written a 100% true report, there is a huge amount of pressure for them to just remove it when threatened with legal action.
For all of these reasons, and more, we will not agree to remove Alerts and subsequent postings upon request; even if someone can show that an Alert or subsequent posting is probably inaccurate. By having this policy, we take leverage away from companies who threaten or pressure a customer hoping to get them to retract a valid complaint.
If this seems unfair or unreasonable, consider this — if someone sues you in court and makes outlandish claims that are completely false, you can fight the case and win and at the end a judgment will be entered in your favor proving that you were right and your accuser was wrong. However, the court clerk will NOT destroy the file or seal the records of the case simply because you won. Even when a lawsuit is shown to be 100% baseless, the documents remain part of a public record that is maintained for years or perhaps forever (trust us — we KNOW about this from first-hand experience). In this situation, the remedy you are entitled to is a court order or judgment proving that you were right, not the destruction of public records about the case.
When it comes to material content and information written by someone other than HolySmoke.org Staff, we do not edit or otherwise alter that content. The author is the one that generates the title of the Alerts and the content therein – so go ahead and speak your mind – within the guidelines of the Terms of Service of course. We want the information to be as raw, unedited, and straight from the source as possible. Assuming the author sticks to the guidelines, there should be nothing for HolySmoke.org Staff to have to edit/redact.
Our staff will, however, make editorial adjustments, where needed, which could include updating a posting in a non-material way such as grammar or spelling if requested by an author, deleting repetitive information in the title that may be caused on accident by mechanical entry, and/or redacting information that is found to be in violation of our Terms of Service or otherwise against one of our policies. Similarly, Beware.org Staff may also enter their own Editorial Comment that may explain a particular situation (such as information relating to redacted content or responding to people who try to put HolySmoke.org on blast for some reason) but those kinds of editorial inclusions are very clearly marked so that they are not confused with the author’s original content.
If we had even a single dollar for every time we are asked to remove an Alert or subsequent posting, it’s entirely possible that we would all be sitting on a beach, on our own private island, somewhere a lot more tropical than the lovely desert oasis here in Arizona! However, as enticing as that sounds, that is not what we do here so we keep on working the more traditional way. Here are the facts:
- No Removal. HolySmoke.org has a general policy against Removing Alerts in their entirety. If you ask us to removal an Alert, the answer will be “NO”. The website’s Terms of Service are very clear on this issue and you agreed to those Terms when signing up for a User Account and before you submit the subject posting. This also applies to any later “settlement agreements” that you enter into with the other party. Just because you enter into some kind of an agreement to remove it doesn’t mean that you can now ignore the Terms of Service that you agreed to.
- No Editing. Once an Alert has been written and submitted, that Alert is “As Is” meaning that you can no longer make material edits or other material modifications to the subject Alert. While we may allow corrections for misspellings or grammatical mistakes through a submission to the Customer Service and Support Department, you should make sure that everything you type is appropriate, accurate and complete before you hit the submit button. Your failure to do that is NOT our fault.
- File an Update. If you are looking to materially edit your Alert, you can always, for free, email us to correct erroneous information, submit additional information, or explain how the circumstances have changed and/or otherwise been resolved. If you have resolved a matter with a business…let the consumers know how that business took care of you! After all, we all make mistakes and misunderstandings happen.
AN HONEST STATEMENT WITH FACTS. An honest story that is based upon facts, that complies with our Terms of Service, makes for a good Alert. Any Alert or subsequent posting to a Alert should be an honest and factual story. Using detailed information such as names, times, places will help paint a clear picture and you should be able to back up your story with evidence (witnesses statements, pictures, documents, etc.) even if you don’t post that information with the Alert…although adding such documents may lend more credibility than just explaining the story and it is encouraged.
VOID OF EMOTION. We know that if you have turned to Beware.org to tell your story about a situation gone bad, you are probably upset. Maybe justifiably very upset. However, an Alert or subsequent posting filled with nothing but word vomit fueled by negative emotion is not helpful to other readers nor is it necessarily going to be perceived as respectable or legitimate. For example, saying “Joe Schmoe’s company sucks and should be avoided” is neither informative nor respectable. Yes, everyone can tell that you are mad if you write something like that, but no one knows what caused you to be mad. There are a lot of colorful words in the dictionary, however, using the more “publicly appropriate” ones will likely lend more credibility to your Alert. Remember, the audience isn’t necessarily just adults.
PROPERLY CHOSEN WORDS. While we are here for you to tell the world your personal story, in your own words (don’t copy and paste other’s stories from other websites without prior permission – that could be considered copyright infringement), so as to warn others so they can make their own decision on whether or not they want to do business with the subject person or business, it is important to consider and chose your words wisely. True, opinions are protected free speech, however, far too many people mistake a statement of fact for being nothing more than opinion and then get into trouble later.
DEFAMATION IS NO LAUGHING MATTER. Defamation lawsuits are on the rise (just ask our Legal Department who sees all of the incoming inquiries) and, in our experience anyway, they are based on postings that people make when they are super upset or fail to take care when writing the Alert. Making up a story, or embellishing a story with skewed facts, to make someone look bad (ex-spouse, ex-partner, ex-employer, ex-business associate, competitor in the business space, etc.) may very well be legally actionable and the first time you think “I won’t get sued if I fudge this story” will be the first time you find out differently. It is NOT worth the risk! Even if you tell the truth, it is still possible that someone will say that you are lying and may try to bring a defamation action against you, so be sure to keep all documents and information relating to the situation as you may need it to mount a defense.
ONLINE HARASSMENT AND BULLYING IS NOT COOL. Again, if you came to HolySmoke.org wanting to post about something that has happened to you please keep in mind that airing “dirty laundry” on public websites like HolySmoke.org is not necessarily a good idea. Again, not only is the information not really helpful to consumers, it also could lead to criminal allegations against you for harassment, etc. and remember…this stuff, in this internet age, can follow you around forever. Would you want to explain what you are about to write to a loved one or potential business partner or employer in the future? Think about it. It’s okay to be mad…but choose your placement to vent those feelings wisely. Let’s keep the content to that of quality!
NOTE. HolySmoke.org staff, including the Legal Department, cannot give you advice on what you should write and whether or not the content might be deemed harassment and/or defamatory. If you are considering submitting an Alert at HolySmoke.org, and you are unsure of the content, you are encouraged to speak with an attorney in your area who may be in a better position to assist you. If you do not have an attorney, your local State Bar Association may be able to point you in the right direction.
To begin with, and possibly the most obvious, is that Alerts and subsequent postings are accessible everyone on the internet as a permanent record and the Alerts may help warn other individual/consumers about prior bad acts, scams, cheating they have experienced. By creating Alerts and other subsequent postings, consumers are educating other consumers.
Beyond that, HolySmoke.org receives information requests from: the media (for help with stories); government agencies around the country (for help with investigations); from attorneys (for help with investigations regarding particular cases), and victims who are trying to learn more about other people’s experiences. This is why it is always encouraged that you opt in for communications from us or others…because you never know when you will be in a position to help someone out and/or when someone else will be in a position to help you with your personal experience.
To utilize the HolySmoke.org website (meaning being able to post Alerts and/or make comments to existing Alerts) one must register for a free User Account. All you have to do is click on the red “CREATE AN ALERT” button at the top of the webpage and you will be displayed a screen where you can either register or login. Information relating to FAQs on Technical Issues, such as more specific details for registering for a free user account, the process for creating an Alert, troubleshooting, etc., can be found on out FAQs – Technical Information page that is located as a drop down to the Help & FAQs tab at the top of the webpage. Before you get started in writing your Report you are encouraged to read about “Site Rules and Guidelines” below as it provides some general information that you may find useful.
Our website, www.holysmoke.org, at its basic level, is a website that provides an open and public forum for free speech. More specifically, it is designed to be a forum for individuals (honestly and accurately) post about their experiences with goods and services provided by individuals and/or companies. We call these postings “Alerts.”
A vast majority of the Alerts on our website are complaints about being cheated in some form or fashion. In this way we are a truth platform because, through the Alerts, we are allowing consumers to educate other consumers about potentially faulty goods, bad service, and/or potential scams. Some individuals will even use the site to warn others about individuals who have, in the Authors eyes, commit some bad acts. The Authors of the Alerts are required to create a free profile, and fill out a form with their contact information, including checking a box certifying what they are posting is true, to make their Alert. Once the Mods have reviewed the content for prohibited content (financial information, social security numbers, foul language, etc.) then the Alert gets posted and becomes search able via search engines such as Google.