Defending your online reputation

April 2, 2008 9:01:20 PM PDT
Protecting yourself on the Internet is becoming more necessary but also more difficult. It's not just your social security number and bank accounts you have to worry about anymore, it's also your reputation. But as the concern grows so do the number of websites that claim they can help. Lora Sheeran's name was on it, her pictures... even links to college friends. But the MySpace page didn't belong to her, neither did the outrageous stories posted on it. She told Action News, "When I first found the page, I felt helpless I wanted to do anything I could do to take it down. Obviously, I wanted it down that second.

She had her roommate email the imposter to try to get more information.

Sheeran said, "The person wrote back and sort of wrote back and said the same thing, that they were partying and hanging out with guys."

Sheeran's story is not uncommon, in fact it happened to her twice. After contacting the website directly and providing proof of her identity, MySpace took the phony site down before her reputation was permanently tarnished.

But on the Internet things can quickly spiral out of control and victims may find false accusations and negative posts can be found on a multitude of sites and blogs. Now, there are websites that claim they can clean up the mess others may make of your reputation.

Attorney Dorothy Bollinger specializes in Internet law. She said, "I've looked at a number of (websites) and i think there are some positive things about them."

Some of the more common reputation remedy websites are reputationhawk.com, reputationdefender.com, reputationrx.com, reputationprofessor. and defendmyname.com. The companies work by conducting what's called a flush through engine optimization. In other words, they saturate the Internet with positive posts to push negative information about you further down in the search results.

But it is important to remember that the information never really goes away... it's just better hidden. Although most of the websites are tailored for businesses, the sites do take on individual clients. Be warned though, the cost of flushing can be high, anywhere from a couple hundred dollars a month to more than a thousand. Bollinger says the best way to save your reputation and a few bucks is through prevention. Look at the requirements the social networking sites have for policy and follow them.

Another way to defend your name: Taking legal action. But this is where the first amendment comes into play. There's a recent example of this. The New Jersey Attorney General is investigating the site JuicyCampus.com - a site that publishes anonymous, often malicious gossip about college students. The AG says the site may be violating the Consumer Fraud Act by suggesting it doesn't allow offensive material but not enforcing that policy. The site accuses the attorney general of interfering with users' free speech.

The reality is this is still a very gray area and in a sense these reputation-fixing sites are acting as an alternative to filing a lawsuit by fighting fire with fire.


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