There’s a lot of truth in old sayings: “You are the master of your silence and a slave of your words”. It applies not just to what you say, but to what you do (or omit). Before Internet, if you did or said something followed by bad consequences, you just had to wait time for cleaning it. In this era is harder to forget and being forgotten. The mistake you made in the past can haunt you for years when people google your name while making research about you (let’s say, when you are looking for a job). It’s a problem of today’s world and a need of today’s people. And, as we all know, the need creates the offer.
There is actually a complex industry focused on making bad things quietly disappear on Internet, and promoting good things for looking clean: it’s reputation management. It’s a growing business. Some RM companies can earn from five thousand to twenty thousand dollars every month per client, and they always need people to work for them.
The basics of the work is tricking search engines by burying down bad news under layers and layers of information in the search results, while leaving the positive results up high in the first pages of the engine. It is a dirt in the electronic eye of our panoptic era. The basic principle is to create the narrative you want to tell about yourself and, then repeat over and over until it becomes the available story about you online. Internet is a double-edged sword: even though it does not let time to clean the reputation that comes after your bad actions (or other’s bad actions towards you), it is possible to modify reality by modifying the content people find in search engines, like Google. In a world of forgetful people, who don’t read much and don’t think by themselves, if it’s not online, it does not exist.
There are ways to do it: writing positive blog posts, creating websites for promoting those posts, writing reviews (sometimes fake), Wikipedia articles, comments plastering… etc. A large range of companies and people use it every day, from small-businesses to multinational enterprises, politicians and celebrities. This is a severe world that don’t forgive people’s mistakes. A typical case is, for example, a company that filed for bankruptcy in the past, but could dig out of crisis some years later. But the bad news of that unpleasant past are still there, no matter if they happened twenty years ago. Or maybe someone was involved in a car crash and accidentally killed a person. Even though is not guilty, the stain is there.
People may start wondering about ethics, but, as any other kind of business, there are black and white situations here. There are two common kind of clients: (A) Companies or people who made a recent or old mistake, and wish to start over and keep going, and (B) People who got bad publicity because others actions: viral nude pictures or videos, being homonym of a criminal, being involved in a legal process (although you are really innocent) … etc. In both cases a Reputation Management company can bring the following solution: moving the current positive information available on search engines over the bad press. In some event, a RM company can successfully move a decent amount of positive web sites to drawn down the undesired information to page three or four in Google. Of course, it implicates a huge volume of website launching and the creation of content. Definitely, not a crime. In the first case, it’s about giving others an opportunity to do move on, and, in the second case, to help victims of other people’s harm.
Of course, it depends on how does the RM company achieves that result. Or, better to say: what kind of RM company it is. On one hand, there are legitimate service companies that work hard for improving a person’s or a company’s reputation. They are called “white hats”. They achieve their results by tried and true marketing applied knowledge, and they don’t break any rules. But there are sharks in the dark waters of Internet, and you can find people who do whatever it takes to clean other’s reputation. It certainly includes taking questionable shortcuts and breaking the law. They are the “black hats”. They both pursuit the same objective: making good news / articles and launching helpful websites for making the clients happy. People will type their names and won’t find anything wrong. But, for making it happen, the thing is how they do it. That’s another cup of tea.
In ideal conditions, the best way for cleaning up your online reputation is simply doing good things. Never forget that every cause has an effect and it’s a natural law of our world.