Online Reputation: Looking after your image online

The internet never forgets: a lesson all too quickly learnt when sharing opinions online. Nowadays, as a great deal of interpersonal communication takes place on the web, personal exposure in the form of social media interaction cannot easily be taken back if you have been less than careful with your words.

South African presenter Trevor Noah knows this far too well. Five years ago, he told a joke perceived by many as racist. The clip resurfaced on the web only a while ago, prompting an outpouring of hate towards him on social media. Angry users hit back at Trevor over his comments, launching a campaign in Australia to boycott his upcoming tour.

Privacy boundaries are blurred in the online world. It is not uncommon to hear about cases of job applicants who miss out on employment opportunities because pictures and posts of a personal nature — which could be considered inappropriate for their professional image — are in the public domain.

Protecting our online reputation is indeed a tall order even for those who are not in the spotlight or have not supposedly compromised their image with polemical comments. The internet is full of trolls: those who purposely bully and offend other users online, sometimes in exchange for cash.

Just as individuals need to be mindful about their exposure online, companies’ reputations can also take a hit when they open themselves up to reviews. Over two million negative comments about businesses are made daily on social media platforms in the United States.

These days, when consumers can search and review businesses all too easily with their phones, online brand reputation is one of the most important assets a company can have. A study from Invesp pointed out that nearly 90 percent of customers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

As web-based interaction becomes ever more intrinsic to our lives, authorities have recognised the importance of preserving online reputation, and as such are working towards protecting users from trolls and malicious activity online.

Right of Reply, a leading innovative online reputation platform, believes that empowering individuals to regain control and ‘tell their truth’ is the key. “The right of reply is a legitimate right granted by law. yet exercising this right is difficult, time consuming and expensive. even when exercised, the reply tends to come too late to have sufficient impact in balancing out the damaging content. it is important that every individual is in a position to reply to any kind of online content in easy, timely and cost-effective manner proportionate to the wrong or misleading content. this applies to every medium by which reputation can be damaged: press and media statements, blog articles, credit reports and social media” Right of Reply commented.

The EU has put some regulation in place to protect individuals in their battle to preserve their online image: since 2014, after a case in Spain, the European Court of Justice established the ‘right to be forgotten’, meaning that a person has the legal right to have sensitive, personal online content removed.

If a European citizen asks Google to remove certain pieces of personal information from the web, Google has the obligation to comply. Since this right was established, there have been more than 700,000 requests to Google to remove sensitive content from its search engines.

“I often think of the right to be forgotten as an obligation that falls on companies like Google,” said Michael Douglas, senior law lecturer at the University of Western Australia, as he highlights that data braches and scandals such as that of Cambridge Analytica are attracting the attention of regulators and authorities all across the world.