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Online Reputation Monitoring

Web 2.0 and Online Reputation Monitoring

August 16, 2009

What would you do if someone spray painted something defamatory on the side of your house? You might call the police or the council, but most likely you’d clean it off yourself. It’s an annoyance, but one that could be resolved relatively easily.

Now imagine the wall was visible by millions, including your friends, family, customers and potential employers. No matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t clean it off. In fact a lot of the efforts you made to erase it only drew more attention to it and helped make the wall more and more prominent.

Welcome to the Internet.


Alsher Usmanov the Ukrainian billionaire and major shareholder of the Arsenal Football Club, hired Shillings to try to take down the blog belonging to Craig Murray (the ex-ambassador from the United Kingdom to the Ukraine).  Murray had written about Usmanov”s alleged criminal activities in his rise to power. In precipitating these actions Usmanov came up against the unwieldiness of the internet.

Far from managing to remove Murray”s blog posts, press interest was increased when Fasthost who were hosting Craig”s website pulled the plug on all the websites for which Craig”s site administrator was responsible in the face of the administrator’s refusal to take down Murray”s site.  It was unfortunate that the administrator’s sites included the website of Boris Johnson and the London Bach Society.   The incident also became a cause célèbre in the blogging world when many prominent bloggers began commenting on the case, and others posted Murray”s blog on US sites, out of the jurisdiction of the legal action.

Unless you actually own the site on which negative content appears, getting content removed on the web is difficult, if not impossible.  You may succeed in getting one site to take down content, only to see that content resurface elsewhere.


The fact that comments made on the internet can be instantly and indefinitely accessible to millions of people around the world makes this a serious concern. What in the offline world, might have passed as a grumble and hearsay over a pint in the pub becomes a different beast on the web.  Even if the original site where the comment was posted has disappeared the comments may remain cached in a search engine or appear on other websites or blogs.

When gossip website TMZ leaked audio of Christian Bale”s tirade against the Director of Photography on the new Terminator Film, the story quickly spread throughout the Internet. A Google search for ‘Christian Bale” the following day revealed several stories about the star’s angry rant and a link to the original TMZ audio, all in the first ten search rankings.

While Google accounts for 50% of all Internet searches, many Google searches reportedly never go beyond the first ten links.  For businesses and individuals worldwide, this means their most visible reputation is dictated by ten blue links and a few lines of text.


So what do you do if you are Company X of London and a disgruntled former customer in Beijing has started

You could try ignoring it, but your potential customers probably won’t when they Google “company X” and the Company X Sucks link ranks at number 2, right behind the official Company X website.

But at least you’re aware there’s a problem.

You can try to retrieve a hate site using a domain name similar to your company name through a UDRP or DRS dispute resolution system. However, this can be risky since it might be successfully argued that the site constitutes fair use under the rules.  The other problem is that even if you succeed you may inflame the situation further, and find that your success is short lived if the negative comments pop up on another website.

In some situations you might be able to take control and publish a response in the press or on your own website, and by sending out emails. This is what an Israeli company did recently when anonymous defamatory comments were posted about it on a variety of websites and also sent around through emails.

Such attacks are often short lived. Surprisingly the best option sometimes can be to simply ignore the incident and let it gradually disappear.  It takes a lot of energy to keep the site sufficiently prominent with new posts.  On the other hand, in some cases the negative site could feature among the first ten results even several years after the last post.


And what if you find out about the private Facebook group ‘Company X”s product is dangerous” which has 500 members, and doesn’t show up on Google? Or there is a micro-blogger on Twitter using your CEO”s name and making fake claims? What can you do about the 4 page thread on a message-board talking about how company X abuses its workers?

If defamatory comment is made, it will often be made anonymously. While tracing individuals through ISPs is possible, what is not so widely appreciated is that though computers may be traced it is not so easy to prove the identity of the users.  So if a defamer has used a public computer and an email with false registration details it can be difficult to identify the culprit.

In the recent case of Applause Store Productions Ltd v Raphael [2008] EWHC 1781 (QBD) lawyers acting for Mr Firsht got around the anonymity problem.  They sent a takedown notice to Facebook and obtained a Norwich Pharmacal order requiring Facebook to disclose not only the registration data but also details of the IP addresses and email addresses which created the profile.

Despite Mr. Raphael’s protestations that he had been impersonated and had not created the defamatory profile, he was held liable for the defamatory comments on Facebook.  The Judge refused to believe his story.  To his chagrin the judge ruled that the allegations of dishonesty in the comments were serious enough to harm Mr Firsht”s business making him liable in damages.  So the award in Mr Firsht”s favour gave £15,000 for Mr Firsht personally, £5,000 to his business and an extra £2,000 for breach of his privacy.


Whether there is even any validity to any online smears is immaterial.  Once it’s on the internet it’s in the public sphere, where it stays.

Watching everything can be complicated, confusing and time-consuming. And that’s before you even attempt to respond to the negative or incorrect content.  As a result an increasing number of companies and individuals are using reputation monitoring services to keep track of their online reputation.

These services have varying levels of success in filtering out the spam, duplicates and promotional copy and presenting you with a summarised breakdown of what’s being said about you online. Some simply present you with the raw information while others also offer statistical analysis to determine how much content is negative or positive.

Reputation management tools should not be confused with the press cuttings services that inform the business about mentions of its name in the press.  Often these services include a licence to reuse such content within promotional material.  Reputation monitoring is quite different in nature and aims purely to scour the web, social networking sites, forums or message boards for any mentions of your name or other chosen keywords which are being monitored.