Rich and Co.

Social Media Cautions #2: NYT – Bad News Travels Instantly, Especially If False and Can’t Be Coorected

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We have seen stats that say 80% 0f online folks worry about security.  That is prudent.  Like it or not, fair or unfair, security is a requirement of all social settings and professional work.  An additional cost.

Bottom Line —

“I used to say until about two to three years ago that there are a lot of things you can do to solve these problems yourself.  I stopped saying that. It’s become so technically complicated to solve this.”

Take Aways —

  • The Web is like an elephant — it never forgets, and if let loose it can cause a lot of trouble
  • Most people do not generate enough positive mentions to push the negative ones lower in search engine rankings“
  • What we see when kids do something stupid (in social media) is the target of the attacks going after the parents.” If your reputation is damaged, the economic consequences can be substantial.

Excerpted from NYT article from June 10, 2011 — Negative Online Data Can Be Challenged, at a Price — By PAUL SULLIVAN

I couldn’t help being reminded of this when I heard about the women who had received Representative Anthony Weiner’s lewd photos. Even though the women appear to have done nothing wrong, their names are likely to be forever linked to Mr. Weiner in an online search.  “These are people who are collaterally damaged.  The blogosphere is interested in you, but three days later it’s over and you’re forgotten forever. But you’re branded as that person.”

This would not have been the case a decade or two ago, when most embarrassing incidents simply died away. Or if they did not, people could simply move elsewhere and reinvent themselves. The Web has changed that.

The Weiner episode is highly visible, of course. But the risk is out there for people involved in far less publicized incidents.

  • About a year ago I interviewed someone for a column about real estate choices.
  • But when I searched his name in Google, the first mention was an arrest for driving under the influence.
  • I asked him about this, and he said he felt it had contributed to his inability to find a job for more than a year.

Then there are children graduating from high school this month and heading to college far from their parents’ watchful eyes. They have the ability to both damage their own reputations and expose their parents to lawsuits if they damage other people’s reputations.

The extreme example of this is Dharun Ravi, the former Rutgers University student accused of using a webcam to spy on his roommate’s intimate encounter with another man. The roommate committed suicide several days later. Mr. Ravi is now facing criminal charges in the case. Whatever the outcome of the trial, Mr. Ravi’s online reputation will be forever affected.

Even though children are living at college, their primary residence is assumed to be their family home. The lawyer for the person suing can claim that the parents should have been better monitors of their children’s Internet activity.

If your reputation is damaged, the economic consequences can be substantial. But there are steps people can take to alter their online reputation and protect themselves against lawsuits for defamation and libel. What follows is a discussion of the options.

The speed at which someone’s reputation can be damaged, even with false information, makes combating defamatory remarks tough.

The college student who received Mr. Weiner’s picture said that she had awakened to find her name all over the Internet. Reversing that kind of damage takes time.

Technology companies are not the only resource for cleaning up a reputation. Security and investigative firms can also help.

Christopher Falkenberg, president of Insite Security, said his firm had resorted to face-to-face meetings with people who posted damaging information as well as the search engine companies that linked to it.

Sometimes, of course, the damaging information is true, or the site refuses to remove the information. Then, firms like and security consultants resort to burying the information as best they can. “You hope people won’t go to the third or fourth page,” Mr. Falkenberg said.

Yet doing any of this costs a lot of money. advertises an annual membership fee of $99, but Mr. Fertik said that costs could easily reach $10,000 for a prominent person who wanted to make a scandal harder to discover through Internet searches. (He said Mr. Weiner was probably out of luck: “It would take a long time and more money than he has.”)

For the detective work, the costs escalate quickly. Michael J. Hershman, president of the Fairfax Group, a risk and reputation management firm, said burying negative information could cost $500 to $1,000, but persuading search engines to expunge incorrect information could cost several thousand dollars more. Getting that information removed from aggregating Web sites like Intellius or PeopleFinder can add another couple of thousand dollars.

Costs can spike into five figures when a firm is asked to find the people responsible for the defamatory blog post or Twitter message. “If you’re going to hire a firm like ours to find that person, it’s hit or miss,” Mr. Hershman said. “We can’t guarantee success. It’s not as easy as going to the search engines.”

SUED FOR DAMAGE  (Why to avoid mentioning individuals in social media.) Then there are the costs for someone accused of damaging another person’s reputation. Lawsuits for defamation and libel are expensive to defend and expensive to settle.

The singer Courtney Love, for instance, recently paid a fashion designer $430,000 to settle a lawsuit brought after Ms. Love sent out a defamatory Twitter post about the woman’s work.

High-end firms like Chubb and Chartis offer coverage against such suits in their personal injury category — as opposed to bodily injury, which almost all homeowner policies have. But if, for example, a parent or child defames someone, the costs could quickly exceed the coverage in a basic policy.

Unlike the situation a generation ago, dings to people’s reputations can follow them through life. “It’s a shame that if you’re a professional person and you’ve spent your lifetime learning something, the Internet doesn’t know that about you,” Mr. Fertik said. “It just knows that you gave a quote about the cafeteria food at your college and ran a marathon.”

For some people, being known for that would be just fine.


Written by Rich and Co.

June 12, 2011 at 7:46 pm

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