INTERNET Public private life?
Web sites revealing private information are popping up everywhere.
By LIZ DOUP
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Chances are, you don't know Scott Houchins, a choral director at Wellington's Palm Beach Central High.
But you can read about him on ratemyteachers.com, a Web site where students critique instructors.
You probably don't know Mark Greenberg of Coral Springs, Fla., either.
But you can read about him on cheaternews.com, a Web site where scorned lovers vent about alleged misdeeds.
Thanks to the Internet, your private life is no longer private. With Web sites and Web logs multiplying like fruit flies, your family, friends and enemies can blab about you, anonymously, to millions of people worldwide.
Not long ago, comments -- good or bad -- about a teacher, boyfriend or spouse found a limited audience. Someone shared thoughts with family and friends and it ended there.
Log onto ratemyteachers.com and you can read how Houchins' former students feel about him.
"He gets a little picky and mean but overall hes [sic] a good guy," one writes. From another: "He cares a lot about kids."
Or check out cheaternews.com and catch the drama of Mimi and Mark Greenberg's broken 40-year marriage.
Mimi, 60, of Royal Palm Beach, Fla., recently blistered Mark online, accusing him of multiple misdeeds, including cheating, which he denies.
"He made a fool out of me and everybody knows it," she says. "Why does he deserve privacy?"
But what if a person disputes what's being written?
Their recourse is the same as someone libeled offline, says David McGuire, communications director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington, D.C.-based civil liberties group. They can sue.
"But there's a big burden of proof within libel laws," he says. "The balance is in favor of free speech."
Nonetheless, venting on the Internet can have negative repercussions beyond the courtroom.
Case in point: The media recently detailed the saga of Nadine Haobsh, an associate beauty editor at Ladies Home Journal.
Writing anonymously in her blog as "Jolie in NYC," she described her work life and included not-so-flattering comments about the bosses.
She eventually was "outed" and lost her job.
Mimi Greenberg wasn't thinking about repercussions when she wrote about her ex.
"Writing it on the Web site helped me," she says. "I let it all out and felt better."
As for her ex-husband: "It hurts me, but I'm not mad at her," Mark Greenberg says.
His reaction wasn't to call a lawyer, although he thinks his privacy was violated.
"A lot of that stuff isn't even true," he says. "As bad as I am, I'm not that bad."
Houchins, 35, is accustomed to students' critiquing teachers -- publicly and privately.
"It goes with the job," he says. "Kids are going to talk, and this is how they communicate. At school, you see them text messaging on their phones or they're IM-ing."
Those behind the tell-all Web sites say they give a voice to people who aren't always heard, especially younger people.
That might explain the popularity of ratemyteachers.com and a similar Web site for college students, pickaprof.com.
"It's all about what's happening in the classroom, and that should be open to the public," says Michael Hussey, who, with two teachers as partners, started ratemyteachers.com."Students have valid opinions, too."
So, apparently, do hundreds of women who recycle the men in their life through greatboyfriends.com. They post pictures and comments about past loves, though, according to Web site co-founder and Elle magazine advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, guys must give permission.
Greatboyfriends.com is a love fest and a sharp contrast to Web sites now springing up to out alleged cheaters.
Tasha Joseph, a Miami public relations consultant, started dontdatehimgirl.com in July. A month before that, Detroit marketing consultant Jim Warren started cheaternews.com, after seeing a TV program on Web sites that link cheaters.
"I thought if they're bad and bold enough to cheat, we should be bad and bold enough to respond," he says.
Considering the content, it's no surprise some Web sites include legal disclaimers that run novella length.
One Florida posting on cheaternews.com names a man and calls him "a bottom feeding sexual predator who hides his sleazy secret life and cheats on his wife and deliberately seduces his friends' wives."
On dontdatehimgirl.com, one woman skewers a Miami man: "HE USED ME! Oh yeah ... and our apartment ... I paid all the rent ... all the groceries ..."
Some Web sites post rules to keep the venom in check. And some offer a way out. Though it's rare a guy wants off the flattering greatboyfriends.com, it happens.
"Some people just don't like to see themselves on a well-known Web site," says Carroll.
In contrast, negative reaction to cheaternews.com came swiftly and loudly. Warren, the founder, gets heated e-mails, mainly from men, who claim ruined reputations.
"Some tell me what's written isn't 100 percent accurate," he says. "I point them to the Web site, where they can post a rebuttal. We try to be fair to both sides."
Though some instructors aren't happy with ratemyteachers.com, the site can help them improve, says Hussey, who helped start the site.
"A lot of teachers take the criticism to heart and change something," he says.
Or take Paul Draluck of Coconut Creek, Fla., 50, whose ex-girlfriend praised him on greatboyfriends.com two years ago.
He didn't mind being out there for all the world to see.
Jill Schneider, 47, of West Palm Beach, Fla., liked what she read and the picture she saw.
Says Schneider: "Now we plan to spend the rest of our lives together."