“Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving.”
I’ve never had a smear campaign waged against me directly. My knowledge of these matters derives from my experience as a third party who was dragged into a smear campaign. This happened because my presence in the situation was a major hindrance to the smearer’s agenda of isolating their victim from friends and family.
Given the nature of my relationship to the victim, scaring me off would have been the ultimate prize, the best proof that the smearer’s allegations against the victim were true. In fact, many methods the smearer employed to demonize their victim were a direct reaction to my debut onto the scene. They couldn’t bear the thought of me being around to provide a good character reference for their victim. Getting rid of me became a top priority.
In the beginning the smearer had tried to go all out by attempting to have the victim arrested, but the police refused to act upon the allegations, easily smelling a rat. When that failed the smearer thought that at least they could nurse their wounded pride by destroying the victim’s professional and personal life with a smear campaign that would leave the victim with nothing.
The smearer did attempt to recruit me along with everyone else as a flying monkey for their smear campaign. Even before hearing the victim’s side of the story, the smearer’s appalling behavior online left me wondering what could they have to hide that made them feel they needed a smear campaign of that magnitude to divert attention.
When the victim finally told me what had truly happened with the evidence to back it up, everything fell into place and the smearer’s strategy suddenly made sense. The obsessive extent of the smear campaign, as I had surmised, was an inverse reflection of how deplorable the smearer‘s own behavior had been during their dealings with the victim.
This smearer was coy to not insult me directly, but the aggressive tone of their language did nothing to convey sincerity either. In addition, the fact that they were only willing to soften their tone with me after the higher authorities had become involved indicated that they had only switched tactics out of self-preservation rather than any genuine change of heart. All of this allowed me to read between the lines that the smearer had only involved me in their crazy circus as a means to embarrass me and, hopefully as a result, to sever my association with their victim. I refused.
Oh, No They Didn’t…
I was shocked by the smearer’s audacity in thinking that they could have that power over me, especially as time went on and they began to utilize more morally questionable methods. I guess they were operating under the false perception that I would be just as pathologically obsessed with image as they were, unable to comprehend that I was prepared to take a few social hits if it meant supporting someone I knew to be a victim.
It amazed me how the smearer could be so obsessed with demonizing their target without pausing to consider that their tactics may inflict damage onto themselves and thus ruin the entire operation. Friends would bring to my attention that the smearer had violated my cyber boundaries on social media in an effort to reach their victim. They would engage in behaviors more befitting of a high school mean girl, cowardly hiding behind a screen, never once having the gumption to approach me directly with their “concerns.” There would be digital evidence of their poor behaviors and still the smearer would carry on acting as if they had my best interests in mind.
I realized that this smearer was either suffering from a severe case of self-delusion that I could be still be turned against the victim, or they knew that I knew the truth and were simply paying lip service to the online audience they had accumulated for their campaign. I am more inclined to believe the latter because, as the victim’s close confidant, the smearer probably realized that I had seen all the victim’s incriminating evidence against them, evidence so damning that no amount of beseeching or mock concern online could counteract it.
What was so ironic about this smear campaign in particular was that one of its key elements was accusing the victim of suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. When I first Googled ‘smear campaign’ in hopes of finding helpful coping strategies, one of the first things that came up was an article titled “the Narcissist’s Smear Campaign.” From reading this and other articles, I discovered that the smear campaign is actually not an unheard-of tactic used by narcissists when they fear exposure. Did the smearer suffer from NPD? I don’t know, but I bring it up to point out the hilarity of the smearer thinking they could label their victim with narcissism all the while employing such narcissistic methods themselves.
Ultimately, a smear campaign is a silencing tactic, though not in the literal sense as one might imagine. The smearer doesn’t want to completely silence the victim, since provoking the victim is a major part of their strategy, but they do want to nullify any unflattering truths about them that the victim could potentially disclose. By accusing the victim of their own poor behavior first, the smearer gains the upper ground in the fight. If the victim tries to point out the smearer’s true nature, they can simply dismiss any accusations fired at them as defensive projection. The smearer wants the victim react angrily and indignity, so they can then point the finger and say something to the effect of, “See, see? Look how they attack me just because I told the truth about them! Oh, woe is me!”
Do You Know Someone Who is the Victim of a Smear Campaign?
Whenever dealing with a smear campaign against yourself or someone you know, especially within the first few months of its onset, it is imperative that you do not respond. You do not engage. You do not legitimize the smearer’s position that there is something to defend. Fortunately, the victim of this smear campaign understood that early on and said nothing. As much as I wanted to self-righteously defend the victim, I too realized that for the time it was best to keep my mouth shut.
If a smear campaign starts to extend over years, then you need to re-assess your options. Long-term smear campaigns can occur, especially if the smearer is a family member or an ex-partner. Those cases often involve extremely fragile egos that will not be quickly or easily soothed. If the smear campaign is starting to affect you socially, then you need to speak out. Don’t overly insult or demean your smearer. Simply state the facts of the situation and let the smearer’s poor behavior speak for itself. Even if the campaign isn’t affecting you socially, still after several years the smearer should not be able to enjoy defaming you without any consequence. Most people will acknowledge and respect you for trying to be the bigger person and for trying to wait for the situation to cool down on its own.
I lost just a handful of colleagues to the smearer, but I view this as a healthy filter. It is not as if the smearer was playing their game cleverly enough that I could understand and excuse those few people for taking their side. The smearer was so overtly obnoxious that if someone honestly had no criticism whatsoever of how the smearer approached me online, then then that person has issues with their own value system and I wouldn’t want them in my life anyway.
As third parties it is painful to watch smear campaigns unfold against people who don’t deserve them. At the end of the day, smear campaigns come much more at the expense of the smearer’s character than the character of the person they’re trying to condemn. The smearer in my situation found that out the hard way when their underhanded behaviors only served to turn me further against them.
As a third party, your key role is to serve as moral support to the victim. Remind them that you know they are not the horrible person that the smearer is portraying them as and that their true self will become apparent to everyone else eventually. The victim in my situation, imagining the worst, used to think that I was unduly biased towards them. However, as they started to reconnect with people that the smearer had contacted, they found that my assessment of the smearer and of the situation was actually the most common opinion. Everyone agreed that the smearer’s behavior had been outrageous and petty, far exceeding any possible argument of “just warning others about a dangerous person.”
The victim and I got off lucky because this smearer completely lacked insight and impulse control. Not every smearer in the world is that foolhardy, and if left to their own devices, they can wreak serious havoc upon their victim’s life. Reading about how others’ lives have been turned utterly upside down by a smear campaign has made me and the victim put our own experience into perspective.
Speaking Up After Two Years
The smearer in my case may become angry that I dared to write about this. All I can say is that the smearer made the choice to drag me publicly into their smear campaign without any thought to how I might feel about it (again, in the hope that the bad press would drive me away). Therefore, the smearer must accept that I am perfectly within my rights to voice my displeasure over that complete and utter disregard for my person. If they are displeased that I have chosen to speak out about their conduct, they have only themselves to blame for viciously using me as a means to justify exacting further revenge upon their victim. They legitimized my voice in this matter by so illegitimately bringing me into it.
They didn’t care about me or my well-being. What they cared about was how my presence contradicted their distorted, revisionist assessment of the victim’s character. The smearer attempted to portray me as weak and lacking sound judgment when any reasonable person would question their creditability and motives in light of the increasingly vindictive behaviors they regressed to. What was poorly disguised as concern was an attempt to bully me, shame me, and to make the social risk too high for me to continue supporting their victim. Only testifying against the smearer in court finally prompted them to leave me somewhat out of their sick game, demonstrating that they were only ever operating with the barest bones of the law as their moral compass.
After everything they have done, they are most certainly not entitled to my continued silence. I remained silent for as long as I did for my own conscious’ sake to ensure that I did not react out of raw emotion. Naturally I want to avoid conflict and confrontation like any other human being, but I am not so lacking in backbone that I would give into the demands of the guilty party just because they will be the one to throw the temper tantrum while the innocent party remains quiet. Whether the person is 3 years old or 30, I don’t cave in to temper tantrums, period. Smear campaigns are nothing more than temper tantrums of abusers who are resentful that their victims dared to hold them accountabe.