A new (and growing) Net business category is now employing Net scare tactics: online reputation management. For example, “the Internet has become the go-to resources to destroy someone’s life online, which in turn means their offline life gets turned upside, too,” Reputation.com CEO Michael Fertik told the New York Times. The article offers helpful insights into how this high-end approach to online reputation management works. In his blog post about his article in the paper, Nick Bilton wrote, “As I interviewed executives at a number of companies that offer these services, including Reputation.com and Metal Rabbit Media, I consistently heard warnings that this is only the beginning of a time where everyone will be forced to manage their image online.” That may well be, but it’s also a little self-serving. What it doesn’t acknowledge is that privacy expectations and reactions to public expression are changing too. Though that’s not to say that we don’t all need to be mindful of what we say and do online. In effect, we’re our own best “spin doctors” now, and we need to be in touch with our inner spin doctor or political consultant. This is the new media literacy and citizenship. Mindful or alert Net use is protective, whether it’s for reputation management, privacy or safety – and it’s for everybody, even people who choose not to be active online. Everybody has a digital footprint (even before many of us are born, when parents blog during pregnancy or post sonograms for friends and family).
Our kids are definitely aware of what people are saying about them online (it’s one reason for their frequent Facebook checking) – that’s making them smarter than Reputation.com’s current clients, many of whom didn’t grow up with Facebook. What they (and all of us) are not aware enough of is the impact of what we’re saying to and about others online. That’s the digital citizenship part. Digital citizenship’s most basic definition is “learning how to be good to one another” (see this). That’s not only nice but protective and, as we see in the Times, money-saving too. I’d hate to see us put these companies out of business. Wait. Actually, I wouldn’t hate that. But no worries, there’ll always be somebody needing a little help with spin. [See also “The social Web, reputations & an election” and many others posts on reputation management going back to 2005.]