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Wild West 2.0: How to Protect and Restore Your Online Reputation on the Untamed Social Frontier by David Thompson, Michael Fertik

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44
The Forces Driving
Online Reputation
The Internet has turned reputation on its head. What was once
private is now public. What was once local is now global. What was
once fleeting is now permanent. And what was once trustworthy is
now unreliable. These changes are explained by the way that the
technology of the Internet has shaped the people’s interaction with it.
Understanding the unique relationship between technology and
culture online is key to understanding how to manage your reputa-
tion online. Failure is certain for users who apply offline techniques
to their Internet reputation or who use offline assumptions when
dealing with online problems. Instead, savvy users must understand
the technical and cultural differences between the Internet and the
offline world in order to effectively preserve and improve their repu-
tations online.
CHAPTER
45The Forces Driving Online Reputation
A Brave New World for Reputation
The Internet is not like other forms of communication. The Inter-
net is not a phone, a radio, a TV, a newspaper, a magazine, a bill-
board, or a bathroom wall. It is entirely unique: it is simultaneously
the largest soapbox in the history of soapbox speeches, the largest
library of human knowledge ever created, the biggest party line
chat in the history of conversation, and much more. Unlike any
medium that has come before it, it offers powerful, global, instant,
interactive communication equally to everyone, no matter how
young or old, no matter where in the world they are located, and no
matter what they have to say. Everyone can broadcast, and everyone
can listen.
Thanks to the Internet, we now have more power over one an-
other’s reputations than at any point in history. Average everyday
citizens have the power to create or destroy almost anybody’s good
name. But, fortunately, the Internet has also given people the
power to monitor, manage, and improve their own reputation, in a
way never before seen. Understanding the technical nature of the
Internet is the first step toward monitoring and managing your on-
line reputation. The technology of the Internet is dramatically dif-
ferent from the offline world: it allows anyone to publish anything
instantly and globally, it is easily searched, search engines dont
know or care if something is true so long as it is popular, nearly
everything online is permanent, and disparate audiences are
thrown together in a way that doesnt often happen in the real
world.
Leading scholar Daniel Soloves groundbreaking book The Future
of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet goes into
great depth explaining the massive impact of this digital revolution
on personal reputation. He examines both the digital causes, many of
which are discussed in this chapter, and legal and social factors that
can help mitigate the destructive impact of these changes.
46 Wild West 2.0
Everyone Can Create, and
Everyone Is (Almost) Equal
Everywhere you look on the Internet, you can find content written by
other everyday people like yourself. The industry calls this user-created
content, and it appears to be the future of the Internet. In the early
days, much Internet content was written by professional journalists and
large corporations. This top-down model of publishing featured a few
trusted content creators who spread their message to many readers.
Today, user-created content is king. Profit-oriented websites like
Facebook and Reddit have discovered that it is cheaper to let users
create their own content than it is to pay writers and editors to write
and edit it. As a result, countless Web 2.0” sites rely on users to cre-
ate the content that other users will view. These sites range from blog-
ging sites like LiveJournal and Blogger, to online encyclopedias like
Wikipedia, to news aggregation sites like Digg, to short-message sites
like Twitter (used for content as banal as Im eating a cheeseburger”
and as meaningful as political commentary in 140 characters or less).
Everyone Can Create
The result of the Web 2.0 revolution is that everyday people now can
create online content that can be viewed by millions of people. It is
possible for anyone to set up a free online journal or blog with just a
few clicks. An online journal can hold any kind of information, rang-
ing from family photos to political thoughts to gossip and scandal. It
is entirely up to the creator to decide what to write on the blank slate
he or she is given. This immense power is given to anyone, and it is
up to the user to decide whether to use this newfound power for
good or for evil.
Similarly, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of sites that fo-
cus on discussion and chat. These “forums and bulletin boards usu-
ally allow users to read messages left by others and to post their own
thoughts in response. Often, discussion sites are organized around a
larger theme (like a particular sports team), and allow users to create

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