August 18, 2022

Wealth Matters: Negative Online Data Can Be Challenged, at a Price

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. Most people do not generate enough positive mentions to push the negative ones lower in search engine rankings.

“These are people who are collaterally damaged,” said Michael Fertik, chief executive and founder of Reputation.com, which helps people control their online identities. “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.

“What we see when kids do something stupid is the target of the attacks going after the parents,” said Peter Piotrowski, senior vice president for claims in the private client division of Chartis.

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, Mr. Piotrowski said.

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.

DAMAGED REPUTATION 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.

“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,” Mr. Fertik said. “I stopped saying that. It’s become so technically complicated to solve this.”

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 Reputation.com 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.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=a38ef40c6537991686f2d39d27f5d36a

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