Reputation Smearing Online

Three things hit my desk today that made me continue reflecting on the issue of misinformation or brutal subjective comment on the Internet.
First, a client told me about an ugly forum comment made about him during his days as a journalist.  As is often the case with forums that allow anonymous posting, people piled on, and whether they were wrong or right, they were ugly.
Then I saw media hits that wouldn’t subside for two relatively silly incidents:
1)  A spider – a single spider – was found in an Oklahoma grocery store.
2)  The stupid Wal-Mart gang initiation story is generating headlines in multiple cities because people forward email without first checking whether the facts in the email are correct.
The spider first.
A Brazilian walking spider was found in some bananas at a Whole Foods in Tulsa.  The spider was supposedly deadly, able to kill an adult in as little as 30 minutes.  Decent “oh gee, look at that news”, but not really of any consequence.   But due to the flow of information online, the story appeared in hundreds of mainstream media outlets.
Some good reporting today from Sharon Munchmore at The Tulsa World brought forward a local zoologist who questioned whether the spider was truly as dangerous as media reports might lead one to believe.
Now from spiders to gang members.
The gang fight at Wal-Mart is not happening, people.   Stop forwarding the story to your friends in email like lemmings.    This is group hysteria at its ugliest with every person in the story, including me, having a megaphone.  When I see garbage like this, I usually head straight for Snopes, and the debunkers there once again saved America from a mass panic attack.
There is no gang attack at Wal-Mart in your town, reports Snopes, the site that has documentation going back four years.  Wal-Mart would like you to return to the store now.
Last is the story of my client and is a great case of how something can be a maddening function of a search engine algorithm.   Because this person is not a self-promoter, search engines often show this one bulletin board / forum thread about him high up in the rankings.
The problem is an easy one for an online marketer to fix, and we’ll start promoting this client by name so that people can read about the person rather than some anonymous screed. What you have in front of you is the most powerful communications device in all of recorded civilization.  Please be careful when you post information.  I referenced a major newspaper and Snopes.com, a generally acknowledged ‘authoritative’ site.   Then I shared a client story that you have no way of testing, but if you’re a regular reader, ask yourself why we would make the story up.
You are responsible for checking your facts, and you are responsible for the information you transmit and retransmit. Be careful out there.
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