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August 22, 2013

Mayor’s name hijacked in cyberspace

www.jimfouts.com privately registered, redirects to posts on online forum

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

WARREN — Mayor Jim Fouts’ very own name is being used against him on the Internet.

In mid-August, the www.jimfouts.com website didn’t include the mayor’s bio, a list of accomplishments, his political platform or even a single campaign slogan. Instead, the link redirected to a page on the “The Warren Forum” online message board where two YouTube clips of the mayor’s profanity-filled remarks, recorded by a former appointee, are posted.

The clips are at the center of a federal whistleblower lawsuit filled by former CitiStat Coordinator James Hartley, who alleged he was banished to count auto parts in a city garage after he provided copies of the recordings — laced with expletives and violent statements — to Michigan State Police in May.

Macomb County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Smith declined to file charges after State Police investigators concluded their probe, and Fouts apologized publicly for the profanity, if not for the violence of the angry remarks.

As of Aug. 27, the jimfouts.com link had again been redirected, this time to an online version of a scathing column about Fouts published by a Macomb County newspaper. The domain shenanigans were clearly part of an effort to draw negative attention to the mayor — or maybe damage him politically — by using his name to direct traffic to negative commentary and controversial content.

The owner of jimfouts.com remains a mystery, but Hartley’s attorney in the federal case, Sarah Prescott of the Deborah Gordon law firm, said her client had nothing to do with the domain.

“He doesn’t own it and he doesn’t know who does is the short answer,” Prescott said Aug. 21.

Fouts, who was seemingly unaware of the use of his name to direct attention to clips of the remarks, said there are a number of people with “vendettas” against him.

“Today, cyber bullying is alive and well,” Fouts said. “People can do things that were unheard of in previous times. They can go out and destroy your name.

“I can’t do anything about jimfouts.com. There are certain people who are unhappy about things. I just have to move on,” Fouts said.

The jimfouts.com domain was registered privately at GoDaddy.com through Domains by Proxy. The domain was apparently created on Aug. 1, 2009 and will expire in August 2014.

Whether or not Fouts intended to ever use his name to create a website of his own, political consultant and Macomb County native Joe DiSano of the Lansing-based Main Street Strategies LLC said securing common variations of politicians’ names in cyberspace should a priority for them these days.

“It is critically important. Not taking care of your domain name and your online presence is amateur hour,” DiSano said. “If politicians don’t protect their names their opponents will have a field day doing it for them.”

The mayor has openly criticized the Warren Forum and those he believes target him there, whether they do it anonymously or not. But DiSano said politicians across the country are being required to step up and engage opponents in the online arena, much as they would in a traditional setting of a town hall meeting or live community forum.

“This is happening everywhere around the country and politicians need to be vigilant in protecting their online reputation,” DiSano said. “That means engaging people in these forums and setting the record straight.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.