“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”
Warren Buffett said that, before the invention of the Internet. Now, in the information age, the statement has never been more truthful. That is why I started a business, ReputationDefender, that is all about protecting reputations.
Your good name, and the reputations of your family, business, and everything you love, is valuable. So, when your neighbor, a customer, or a love interest plugs your name into a search engine, what will they find?
Anyone can come along and slam you online and if that happens, search results for your name might be dominated by negative, incomplete, or even false information. A hostile online comment might represent the uncommon experience of a dissatisfied customer or disgruntled neighbor, but due to the structure of search engines, that single opinion can be greatly amplified and made to look like a universal point of view. You might fall victim to the sniping of an anonymous blogger or even a competitor posing as an angry customer.
It’s not only easy to publish half-truths, innuendo, and falsehoods on the Internet, it’s also easy to make them stick. Many people who publish negative web content know how to make it maximally destructive. Lies, rumors, or memes take flight easily, getting repeated, added to, and generally magnified. Even though some of these narratives are discovered to be false, very few of them get debunked as loudly as they are broadcasted in the first place. As a result, false content often becomes more visible on the web than, say, well-researched articles from reputable news sources. It might seem illogical that bogus speculation can end up dominating searches for you, but that’s how a rumor mill works.
A great strength of the Internet is that it gives everyone a voice. That’s also one of its dangers: it can endow fraudsters and idle speculators with the appearance of authority.
The danger is real. This does not mean you should stop using the Internet. It means that you must proactively establish your accurate and positive presence on the web before there is a problem. You need to maximize your control over what people find about you, before someone else does it for you.
There are options. Companies have developed software solutions for online reputation protection. ReputationDefender, which is now a partner with TheStreet.com network, is my company, and we do just that.
Michael Fertik is the Founder and CEO of ReputationDefender, the online reputation management and privacy company.