You may feel shock, anger, and revulsion if you have found false in-
formation about you online. Many people experience these emotions
when they discover lies, false innuendo, and slander online, especially
if the falsehoods appear prominently in a Google search. Discovering
false information about you online can feel like learning that peers
are gossiping behind your back or that your online résumé has been
covered in hurtful graffiti. These feelings can be magnified if the false
information is prominent enough that it may be misleading friends,
co-workers, acquaintances, and others. You may also experience
feelings of powerlessness because there is often no immediately
Recovering from Online
Smears: Restoring Your
Reputation After the
Damage Has Been Done
208 Wild West 2.0
obvious way to complain about a website bearing false information
and no button to press to instantly fix it. And your feelings may be
intensified even further if the false information was put online by an
anonymous user; you may think, How dare some coward hide be-
hind a cloak of anonymity when slinging lies and misinformation?”
These reactions are all perfectly normal. It can be a shock to
discover hurtful false information for the first time, whether it was
placed online intentionally or accidentally. It often hurts doubly be-
cause so many users still believe the “Google of Eden myth—the
false impression that all Google results are pure, pristine, unbiased,
truthful, and accurate—almost as if Google were a gift from the
heavens. In reality, Google’s algorithm was written by humans, who
are necessarily imperfect. The algorithm depends on collecting in-
put from websites and blogs, many of which are biased or false.
And the algorithm is further corrupted by the self-reinforcing na-
ture of false Web content. Finding false information about you pre-
sented through Google is probably the fastest way to be dissuaded
of the myth of the Google of Eden (see Figure 12-1). If you have a
strong emotional reaction upon discovering false online content,
then talk about your feelings with friends and family before pro-
ceeding; it is important to recognize how you feel and to work
through your emotions before beginning the hard work of repair-
ing your reputation.
Once you have had time to process the initial shock, it is time to
start the hard work of repairing your reputation. The good news is
that your online reputation can be improved through careful appli-
cation of a few simple principles. The bad news is that reputation re-
pair takes time and effort, and sometimes a lot of both; it may take
a few weeks and a handful of hours to fix a minor problem, but it
may take several months and hundreds of hours of effort to repair
the worst of the damage following a serious attack.
The process of online reputation repair can be broken down into
three steps: understanding the problem, making a plan, and imple-
menting your plan. These steps are flexible; you will always be finding
new information, and you will almost always have to adjust your plan.
Step 1: Understand What Happened
As a cartoon hero once said, Knowing is half the battle.
Yo u r f i r s t
goal is to determine the extent of the reputation damage and to iden-
tify its original source. Understanding the extent and the source of
the false negative information will help you formulate a plan to deal
with it: You would need to create different plans for an intentional
and widespread attack and for an isolated accidental error.
Figure 12-1. Discovering false information about you on the Web can feel
like discovering hateful graffiti on your online résumé.
209Recovering from Online Smears

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