Internet defamation is hardly new, but the way it can happen to younger people in situations where they are hurt before even entering the workplace is a serious issue. “Good Morning America” put up a segment on this today and I was shown as an Internet privacy expert.
The ABC News video lasts 5 minutes and 22 seconds, of which I’m on for about 6 seconds (1:38-1:44). What’s interesting is actually the advice delivered by Tory Johnson slightly later in the segment, also repeated in an article on the ABC News site. The article is entitled “How to Avoid Cyberspace” but that’s not really a practical or realistic piece of advice in itself – I’m not sure why they called it that. She’s not advocating avoiding the Internet and we all realize that’s impossible. She does provide some good tips on fighting and preventing defamatory remarks.
Also, as noted by Kurt Opsahl in yesterday’s Washington Post piece, you can sue and you can fight the negative information by posting positive information. I would add to that it’s almost easier to post it in other locations on the web rather than getting into direct confrontations on the site in question. The Internet, unlike tabloids, is a 2-way street so you can control the information out there about you to some extent.
Other things I explained to the interviewer:
1) I advise my clients – even those who are not political – to think of themselves as candidates when they go online and only put up limited information about themselves that shows them in the most positive light.
2) Treat the people who are causing the trouble like hackers or school bullies – you can’t completely avoid them, but you can ignore them – what they really crave is attention.
3) Remember that this type of damage fades over time and whatever’s most popular and current out there on the web is going to be what comes up first in search engines.
4) Don’t attack the search companies like Google and don’t blame the Internet – they are merely vehicles for information and do not have any malicious intent.
5) You can make a difference with what companies do when they are pre-screening potential employees by contacting them and asking them to avoid certain sites.
6) The market drives this activity to a certain extent – if sites get a bad reputation for hosting misinformation, they will lose traffic and other sites will take over the dominant spot in the social networking sphere.
7) Utilize anonymity if necessary, but sparingly – it can still sometimes be traced.