August 1, 2014
About eight years ago, I noticed something about the Internet that really bothered me: Anyone could say anything about anybody with impunity.
Right or wrong, true or false, outdated or misleading — it didn’t matter. Post it and it would stay up forever, a digital attack dog that went right for the jugular of a person’s reputation. And of course, the structure of the Internet meant there was no overarching authority that could help. Websites themselves are typically not legally responsible for the content others post. What was a person to do?
I’ll never forget a female executive I knew who had a very distinctive name. Colleagues at her leading global company routinely posted on a public Internet message board, but the posts had degenerated into demeaning commentary on female employees’ figures, sexual proclivities, etc. She was the target of a particularly vicious, unfounded rumor. On the hunt for a new job, she had several promising interviews that never went any further. Then she noticed that this site would rise slightly higher in her search results after every single interview.
What was happening? Hiring managers were Googling her and discovering that website. Her distinctive name left little doubt that the content, though false, was about her. She tried asking the website owners to take it down (no dice) and even explored retaining an attorney (too expensive and unlikely to make an impact).
This is the takeaway: It can happen to you. And it’s why I started my company. In fact, I’m coming to Chicago next month to discuss this very topic.
I’ve known many people with similarly sad stories: ex-lovers who posted private photos, disgruntled employees who snatched up an employer’s personal domain to vent their ire, professionals who share the same name with a criminal. It’s astonishing how vulnerable good people are, and how slow some are to realize that it’s a problem that really could impact them. But think about it: What’s the first thing you do when you meet someone? You Google them.
I recommend everyone get energetic about their online reputations — call it “Google insurance.” Search your name on all major search engines to see what’s out there. Establish professional Social Media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn — and connect them. Buy your own domain name and use a simple, free design tool like Wordpress to make it look sharp. Set up free Google alerts on your name and associated terms, like your profession, so you can see when new information about you is posted online.
Make no mistake: The Internet is an opportunity for you to stand out. Take control now before control is taken from you.
Michael Fertik is the founder and CEO of Reputation.com, which helps empower people and businesses on the Internet.