CINCINNATI - Sarah Jones lived what some may say was a charmed life. She was in a committed relationship with her high school sweetheart, had a job she loved teaching high school English and math, and was a professional cheerleader for the NFL Cincinnati Bengals.
But when a photo of her and Cincinnati Bengals kicker Shayne Graham appeared on the web, Jones' sweet life quickly turned sour. The photo was posted anonymously on a site called The Dirty.com, along with lurid and hurtful comments she said were untrue.
Jones emailed the site, pleading for TheDirty.com to take down the picture and the comments.
"I am begging you, before you ruin my reputation, to please remove my photos from your website," she wrote.
But six weeks later, another photo with more lurid comments surfaced. In one comment, a poster claimed that Jones had had sex in her classroom.
Horrified, Jones sought to dispel gossip among her students who had seen false assertions made on the site.
"To stand in front of thirty 15 year-olds and tell them you don't have two STDs and that you are not a slut is the hardest thing you will ever have to do," she said.
Jones continued to request that the posts be removed. Her emails went to TheDirty.com founder Nik Richie, a self-proclaimed "rock star of the Internet generation" and the man behind the dirt. Richie encourages anonymous tipsters to submit pictures and stories about their friends, family and frenemies.
Richie told "20/20" he's not the one posting the comments -- it's his anonymous tipsters, whom he has dubbed "The Dirty Army." He just incites more conversation, he said, by adding his opinion to shocking comments. Richie eventually replied to Jones, saying he wouldn't remove the posts because "Graham pissed me off."
Jones sued Richie for defamation of character.
Michael Fertik, the founder and CEO of Reputation.com, said sometimes suing actually makes things worse, because of something called "the Streisand Effect."
"The Streisand Effect is named after singer Barbra Streisand, because back in the day, she sued a photographer who took a picture of her house," Fertik explained. "And when the news of the suit came out, his friends or sympathetic parties to him, started to republish the photograph in many places. So actually, it's an incendiary bomb to sue somebody, because the law has not caught up with the Internet yet."
A federal judge in Kentucky has awarded Jones an $11 million default judgment for defamation, but litigation continues in the case, and whether Richie will ever pay up is not clear.
Jones, meanwhile, must cope with what is likely permanent damage to her reputation.
"The Internet has no delete button. You can get some things off the Internet, but it's very difficult," Fertik said.
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