Websites promising to “fix” an online reputation that has been damaged by so-called gripe sites often are run by the same people, a new investigation in the New York Times reveals. Times reporter Aaron Krolik tested the system by writing a fake nasty post about himself on one such site, and watched it metastasize across the internet. Companies offering “reputation management” can charge upwards of $20,000 to scrub such false reports from the internet.
The unverified claims are on obscure, ridiculous-looking sites, but search engines give them a veneer of credibility. Posts from Cheaterboard.com appear in Google results alongside Facebook pages and LinkedIn profiles — or, in my case, articles in The New York Times.
That would be bad enough for people whose reputations have been savaged. But the problem is all the worse because it’s so hard to fix. And that is largely because of the secret, symbiotic relationship between those facilitating slander and those getting paid to remove it.
The Times spoke with several people who offer services to clean up an online reputation but who also help spread it across the web. And they found that while Google would remove search results including links to “sites with exploitative removal practices,” it’s not always able to catch all the garbage posts.
Go read this fascinating deep dive into the world of online reputation management and how such content can have a lasting impact in search results— for better or worse.