Reputation management in the era of cyberbullying

As a result, everyone who uses the Internet needs to be conscious of cyberbullying. That means taking proactive, preventative measures against being caught in a situation that could negatively affect your business and personal life.

When doing business online, you can be affected by trolls trying to harm your reputation. There is hope, and preventative measures you can take. In this article, we’ll cover the different types of cyberbullying.


What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is a form of bullying typically carried out over the Internet on digital devices like smartphones or computers. Cyberbullying can encompass a wide range of behaviors, from sending aggressive messages to someone or creating negative posts about them online, to share their personal information on a public forum.

Many may dismiss cyberbullying as inconsequential or mistakenly think it’s not too bad because it only happens between kids on their cellphones. The truth is, for kids in the schoolyard and adults online, the consequences of cyber cruelty are serious and devastating. The growing accessibility of information fostered by the advance of the World Wide Web is, in the round, a good thing. Still, it's a double-edged sword: if easily accessible information concerns you it could be abused by those with malicious intent.

Anyone who uses the Internet leaves a digital breadcrumb trail without realizing it that identifies them.

"Trolling" is no longer an issue confined to chat rooms and message boards. With a wealth of information about individuals and businesses available with just a quick Google search, it can and does have real-world consequences.

The simple fact of the matter is, the more information you share publicly on the Internet, the more susceptible you become to people who may use it against you. However innocuous you think this information may be, it can be joined to other seemingly innocent things (for instance, forum posts that reveal your location, using the same username across multiple websites), and exposing you.

It's unfortunate to put the onus on the potential victim. Still, In this day and age, it's always worth bearing in mind that when you post something publicly, anyone could see it, take against you, and take action by way of cyberbullying.

The most prevalent forms of cyberbullying today are:

  • Doxxing
  • Public shaming
  • Cancel culture

Let's take a close look at what each entails.

Doxxing

The term "doxxing" is the practise of collecting documents or "docs" about a person with the intent of using it for malicious purposes. These people search through public records and social media and collect data like social media content (such as posts and pictures), as well as more private information that can often be found online, such as voter registration information, financial documents, credit history, your home address, and your friends and family.

When malicious actors place these disparate pieces of information together and post it online, it becomes a public record that you have no control over and identifies you to the world.

Doxxing tends to be targeted at ordinary people. Sometimes it's just random hackers who want to bring trouble to some unassuming stranger, but it can often be the work of someone in the same online community who feels wronged somehow. And their way of righting the wrong is by weaponizing personal data.

Once out there, this information can be used from general online harassment, hacking into someone's email or social media accounts to calling the police to someone's house, or even reporting a fake bomb scare.

Doxxing has been a commonly used abuse tactic in adverse online movements such as Gamergate.

Public shaming

One positive aspect of the Internet is that it's often a platform for exposing shady people who may not otherwise have been exposed. It's harder for prominent figures to get away with social transgressions like sexism and racism these days, which is by no means a bad thing. Social media sites like Twitter afford ordinary people who would not otherwise have a voice to air their grievances. This is often referred to as "calling out," and calling out repeatedly results in public shaming.

The cycle often goes something like this: someone does or says something bad; it's tweeted about; thousands retweet this tweet; numerous blogs and media outlets pick it up, each response more outraged than the last; everyone forgets about it—everyone, that is, except for the person who has been shamed. Public shaming online can have real-world consequences and cost people their relationships, jobs, and more.

The problem with public shaming is that sometimes the response to a transgression can seem way out of proportion. Sometimes it's just ordinary people who had a lapse in judgment that are targeted. Often, an apology isn't enough.

Journalist Jon Ronson covers public shaming phenomena in his book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed. He says, "we've created a stage for constant artificial high drama in regards to social media. Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain." In the high-stakes, high-drama world of public shaming, there is no room for gray areas.

Cancel culture

A close cousin of public shaming cancels culture when members of the general public decide that someone (generally in the public eye) is canceled. "Canceled" typically means that this group will no longer support the offending party financially or otherwise.

Like public shaming, the problem with "canceling" someone is that they might not always be so deserving of such an extreme reaction. There is no opportunity to learn from your mistakes and move on. There is no room for letting humans be human.

And that goes for you, too. The arbitrary standards of public shaming and cancel culture mean that anybody can be a target.

Again, while the Internet has proven an excellent space for holding people accountable, it isn't the most forgiving place. Even if you are sorry for that unfortunate joke you made on Twitter ten years ago, the Internet doesn't care.

Cultural standards and norms are changing at a rapid pace, which is excellent. Unfortunately, it can make any past transgressions available online even more jarring, even if they were perfectly reasonable comments to make at the time.

Apologizing and taking responsibility is the key way to react in this situation, but unfortunately, that isn't always enough.

If you have a small business and a colorful social media history, you're right to be worried. Now that you've gotten the low-down of how bad cyberbullying can get, what can you do to prevent yourself from getting into such situations? If you want your private information to remain safe and private and not a tool that can be used against you, you need to be proactive in online reputation management.


What is online reputation management?

Online reputation management is a means of strategically influencing how a person or business is perceived in the online sphere. Maintaining an excellent online reputation is essential for professionals and companies alike; however, it requires constant monitoring to achieve because of the Internet's breadth and scope.

In the following sections, we'll get into the ins and outs of controlling your reputation online by discussing the following:

  • Taking proper Internet security precautions
  • Controlling what public information is available about you online
  • Being mindful about how you interact with people, customers, and reviewers in an online setting

Online reputation management and security

Before you even think about anything else, you need to ensure you're safe and secure about it if you do anything online. Focus on the following areas:

Social Media

Have you checked your social media privacy settings lately? Do you know what can be seen by the general public? For sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, this might mean making it so only friends and approved followers can see anything you post.

People don't tend to take the time to read the privacy policy of each social media site that they use, but it's a habit you should get into, especially when there are changes made. You need to keep up-to-date with what exactly they're doing and not doing with your data before you agree to anything.

Here are just some of the privacy settings you should check on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram:

Facebook

Your Facebook privacy settings can be changed in the "Privacy" tab of your settings page. Areas we recommend reviewing are:

  • How people find you. You can control if people can find you via email or phone number and whether your profile appears on search engines.
  • In the "Security and Login" section, you should activate two-factor authentication for added security. Here, you can also sign up to get alerts if there are any logins to your account from unrecognized devices.
  • Your "Apps and Websites" settings. Here, you can see what apps, games, or websites you are connected to via Facebook. You can also view what Facebook information each app has access to, and if anyone else has access to that information. If you aren't comfortable with apps having access to that information, you can turn it off. The information shared may seem innocent enough, but you're well within your rights to be wary, particularly in light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal a few years back.
  • Review pages you follow and groups you are a part of. If you're not comfortable having certain pages or groups linked to your name, unlike or delete yourself as a member. To delete any posts or comments made in these pages or groups, go to the "activity logs" section of your timeline settings and click on the "Groups" filter. Then click on "Posts and comments." Here, you can see posts made across groups you're a part of and have the option to delete them individually.

You should also take the extra steps to set all past posts to private or friends only. You should also do this with profile photos, cover photos, and your friends' list. If your email address or phone number is displayed in your profile, remove it.

Twitter

You can find your Twitter privacy settings in the "Privacy and Safety" section of your account settings page. If you want to keep your tweets from the general public, click the "Protect your tweets" box located at the top of the page.

If you use your Twitter for professional reasons or a public figure, you'll most likely need to keep your Twitter public. Here are some other settings you should review:

  • Your location settings. On Twitter, you have the option of including your current location in each tweet. If you don't want to do this, on the privacy and safety section, make sure that the box next to "Tweet with location" is unticked.
  • On your public account page, set up two-factor authentication in the security section's Login verification part.
  • In the "Apps" section, you can check out any third-party apps that have access to your account and revoke access.

Instagram

When you open your Instagram app, the privacy settings can be found when you click on the gear symbol located in your profile page's top right corner. If you want to keep your profile viewable to the general public, you should review some areas:

  • Setting up two-factor authentication for logging in.
  • Who can tag you in photos? To avoid potentially inappropriate photos showing up on your profile, you adjust your settings to review tagged photos before they are added to your profile.
  • Your story settings. Adjust things like who can see your story and where it appears by tapping into the Privacy and Security section and then Story Controls.

How to delete old social media posts

Since their inception, if you've been using Facebook and Twitter, going through a mountain of (most likely) cringeworthy old posts and Tweets one-by-one and deleting them is a daunting task. Luckily, some tools can help. It won't be a quick process, but using an app to help will save you a significant amount of time.

Consider using the Social Book Post Manager extension for Google Chrome for deleting old posts and comments on Facebook. This extension helps you batch delete, hide, or unlike posts or items through your activity log. You can filter posts by a specific date and even specify posts that contain a particular term, like the name of a person or unsavory words.

If you're a prolific Twitter poster, you may want to think about enlisting an auto-deleter tool for peace of mind, Tweet Delete, for example. You can set it up so that tweets older than an age you specify are automatically deleted.

Don’t fancy the hassle? You can always download a paid service designed to stop ad trackers, data intrusion and prevent security incidents caused by a lack of social media privacy like jumboprivacy.com. Reputation management software is a great way to save yourself a little time and effort.

Use a VPN

Over the past few years, VPNs have quickly turned from being a "good-to-have" online security measure to an "imperative-to-have." A VPN helps private data by hiding the information transmitted every time you connect to the Internet. Your data is unreadable until it reaches its final destination. For more in-depth information, check out our articles on what VPNs are precisely, how VPNs work, and why you need a VPN.

Read about Namecheap's VPN options here.

Use an antivirus program

Everyone with a personal computer needs to install an antivirus program to protect it from viruses and malware. Everyone. If you don't have one yet, remedy that immediately.

Stop using your personal email address for everything…

… unless it's for personal or business-related purposes. Suppose you're registering on numerous websites unrelated to your work, such as anonymous forums or message boards. In that case, you should avoid anything that identifies you, particularly if your name is in your email address. Using a throwaway email is best for such online activities.

For doing anything of a delicate nature over email, it is advisable to create an anonymous address on a private email service (read: not Gmail or Yahoo) and set up forwarding to your one.

Passwords and username best practices

All of your passwords should be strong and should be unique across each site or app you use. No exceptions.

A strong password:

  • Is at least 15 characters long
  • Has a good mix of letters, numbers, and symbols
  • Isn't apparent (Never, ever, ever make your password "password")
  • Doesn't use common substitutions ("0" in place of "O") or keyboard paths (like qwerty)

The Avast blog recommends using a mix of uncommon nouns, sentences, or phrases, which would be easy for you to remember, and hard for hackers to crack.

That being said, using a computer-generated password, such as Norton's password generator, is ideal. Remembering all these unique, complicated passwords isn't easy. Luckily, there's software available online to make these things easier, such as Lastpass and Passpack, which store all your passwords in one place.

Using varied usernames isn't discussed as frequently as using different passwords, but it's also very important. If you're active across several forums, having different usernames will help against your identity being discovered. And of course, never ever use the same username-password combination more than once.

Another thing to avoid is logging into third-party websites using authorization from Facebook, Twitter, or Google. The convenience is so tempting; we get it. Registering to every site individually can be a painful, odious process. And while it's handy for you, it's also handy for hackers who will be privy to not only your email address but all the social media accounts associated with. Ultimately, the convenience is not worth it.

Remove yourself from people search tools

Websites like Whitepages.com and Pipl.com collect data about individuals found online and host it on their site. With sites like these, hackers and doxxers don't have to do much to find out your personal information.

You are well within your rights to opt-out and contact many of these sites to request the removal of your information. Check out this LifeHacker article for more information about opting-out from the most popular people search websites.

Unfortunately, for the likes of Pipl, opting out isn't possible due to the way it collects its information (a web crawler bot that indexes publicly available information). If you want something removed from this site, you will need to contact the information source.

Personal reputation management

Whether you're a business owner or otherwise, everyone needs to consider their online reputation. As we discussed earlier, you can never really know what information – however harmless it may seem – could be used against you.

To protect your reputation online, consider doing the following:

Think twice before posting anything online

It sounds like common sense, but the truth of the matter is that most of us have been guilty of posting something a little too personal in an online setting at one stage or another, whether it be on a social media site or a personal blog. It's good to be wary, even if your privacy settings only allow "friends" or approved followers to see what you post. How well do you really know your "friends" on social media?

A good rule of thumb to follow is always asking yourself: "would I want future employers or clients to see this?" If the answer is no, don't post it.

If you're going to post a funny joke, think about how it could be construed out of context. On the other side of the coin, think about if it can be construed in context. As everyone's grandma used to say, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. Alienation isn't good for business (or humanity).

That being said, if political speech and expressing your opinions are important to you, then you shouldn't have to quell that side of you entirely. For some people, this is even part of their brand persona. However, suppose you do decide to venture down this potentially thorny pat. In that case, you need to be willing to stand behind your ideas and to take any possible fallout if you feel particularly strongly about an issue. Be prepared – these strong opinions could affect your business.

On a related note, what if you posted something potentially offensive several years ago, long before something like online reputation was even a blip on your radar. What then? That brings us nicely to our next point.

Carry out a thorough check of your social media history

It may be laborious, and it may make you cringe, but it needs to be done. Most people said silly things online when they were younger, and unfortunately, there's online evidence to prove it. Even if you weren't a big social media poster, there are probably a few incriminating photos of you floating around if you happened to have snap-happy friends.

This can be taken care of by adjusting social media settings and changing who can see what. Still, you should take the time to delete anything that could be deemed inappropriate or that you're no longer comfortable with being in the public sphere.

Register your name as a personal domain

There's no better way to take control of what's being said about you online than by registering "yournamehere.com" and creating a small website containing key information about yourself. We talked in-depth about the benefits here.

Fill it out with the information you want to share, like your professional experience and drawing attention to awards or accolades.

Business reputation management

If you run a business, it's worth considering that the previous two sections are also steps you must take to protect your online reputation. Proper security and personal reputation management go hand-in-hand with protecting your business reputation. You, as a person, represent your business, so you don't want any sensitive information about you online to be exposed or used against you.

Here are a few extra factors to consider if you want to protect your online business reputation:

Sometimes the most straightforward act can be the most illuminating. Doing a quick Google search of your business will reveal all you need to know about your business's public perception in just a few clicks.

If you don't like what you see, then there are a number of ways to approach it:

  1. You can contact websites hosting negative content about your business. If someone encountered difficulty when dealing with your company, offer them a way to remedy it, and ask them if they'll take down their piece. This won't always work, but it's a good first port of call.
  2. Create content optimized for SEO to outrank any negative content. This can include creating and regularly updating pages for your company across social media (LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook), and blog content for your site.
  3. Focus on improving customer service and encourage your customers to leave reviews.

Set up Google Alerts for your business

Googling your business name once isn't enough. You need to keep abreast of public opinion so you can be ready to take the steps necessary to counteract it. By setting up a Google alert, you'll be notified directly about new content related to your business that has been posted online so that you won't be subject to any rude awakenings in the future.

Verify and claim your business on Google and across social media networks

This may seem a little obvious, but it bears mentioning. If you don't claim your business, somebody else with too much time on their hands might spread damaging misinformation about it. Take control as soon as you can so that customers won't be misled.

By having verified pages across popular social networks and search engines, you can be sure that your customers can access the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Interact with customers on social media

And do it honestly and openly. Authenticity is something people appreciate more and more in businesses these days. According to a survey conducted by Social Media Today, 86% of people point to brand authenticity as a deciding factor when it comes to businesses they decide to support. The best way of coming across as authentic is – wait for it! – being authentic.

This brings us back nicely to the first point in this section: The more you post and interact with customers on social media, the better your social media profile will rank in search engines. So interacting with customers will not only make them happy; it will improve SEO and boost your brand – both key to bolstering your online business reputation. Google has also stated that high-quality reviews from customers help improve local business visibility.

How to respond to reviews

This is probably the most important part of managing your business reputation online – so important that it got its section!

Your first instinct might be to ignore reviews (significantly negative ones), but it would be to your business's detriment. Online reviews are everything these days. The Internet has allowed customers to become more discerning when it comes to spending their money.

More and more consumers consult online reviews before deciding to purchase a product or service. According to a consumer survey by Bright Local, 82% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a local business, needing at least ten reviews to be positive before they say they’ll trust that business. Those are some stats you can't ignore.

The sooner you adopt a policy on responding to both negative and positive reviews, the better. It might seem like a lot of work, but you should try to respond to reviews as much as possible.

Responding to reviews allows you to leverage what people say about you – even if it's not positive. If you're smart about it, you can turn things in your favor, creating a positive image for your brand if you start a positive buzz about positive interactions.

How to respond to positive reviews

  1. Write a personalized response. Don't copy and paste the same generic "thank you" message and use it for every customer. Show your appreciation by responding to something specific in their message.
  2. Invite them back again. Suggest a similar product or service they might like. Maybe even offer them a promotion. Take the opportunity to market to your customer base directly.
  3. Sprinkle in some keywords. You're wasting a key SEO opportunity if you don't at least mention your business name in there.

How to respond to negative reviews

  1. Apologize and keep it brief. Never go on the defensive. You want to show them that you're sorry for their bad experience and want to make things right. Don't deny any wrongdoing or make excuses.
  2. Invite them to contact your customer service team through phone/email/chat to help remedy the situation. You don't want their problem being discussed in a public forum, but you want to convey that you care about your customers' needs.
  3. Don't include keywords. This is not a good SEO opportunity.

Responding to bad reviews can be an excellent opportunity for brand marketing if a disgruntled customer is impressed by how they were dealt with – they might even leave a positive follow-up review. If not that, you can at least request that they remove the negative review.

Unfortunately, bad reviews aren't always honest – they may just be the work of online trolls looking to slander your reputation. What do you do then? You can flag a Google review for removal if it violates their terms of service. It is also possible to flag reviews for removal on Facebook and Yelp.

If all else fails and you think a review can be deemed defamatory, you can submit a legal request to Google. Be sure to consult a lawyer before going down this road.


Reputation management services

If you’re concerned about your online reputation but feel a bit helpless, that’s completely understandable. Fortunately, there are a wide range of reputation management services and software available online to help you keep track of what people are saying about you.

The type of service you decide on will be highly dependent on whether you want a dedicated team keeping track and taking care of your reputation, or if you think you’ve got a pretty good handle of things yourself, but need a helping hand in some areas.

If you’re looking for an agency, WebiMax takes a strategic approach to helping individuals and businesses build and maintain their online reputation. They start by providing a detailed reputation report for its client, outlining the steps necessary to manage their online reputation. Taking a proactive approach, their services include continuous online monitoring, brand preservation, crisis response, and strategic PR. Other agencies that provide online reputation management services include Superb Digital and Gadook.


What to do if someone tries to damage your online reputation

This article has, by and large, been about taking preventative measures. It's very difficult for trolls to try to slander you when they have little material to work with. Unfortunately, even if your reputation is squeaky clean, people who are determined to attack you and your business can still find ways to bring you down.

It's a challenging situation. If there are defamatory and libelous articles that are impinging on your reputation and affecting your business, the best way to address it is by contacting the host websites directly. Inform them that their content contains false information about you and that it could hurt your business. Request that it be edited or taken down entirely.

Be wary of immediately taking to social media to express your outrage, especially if it's just one article. A little bit of bad press from disgruntled individuals with too much time on their hands is inevitable in this day and age. You don't want to end up drawing attention to it, inadvertently blowing things out of proportion.

In the meantime, follow the key points outlined in this article: implement an SEO plan so that positive content about you and your company will bury any negative content in search engines, and build a relationship with customers by responding to genuine reviews. Triple check your online security habits and make sure that your personal information is safe.

If this makes no difference, and false Internet content is starting to take its toll on your business, it might be time to take legal action. For advice on what to do next, contact a lawyer who specializes in Internet defamation.


Conclusion

Online reputation management doesn't have to be a minefield. By taking the necessary security precautions and being mindful about how your public online interactions and activities may affect your or your business's perception, you've already made the necessary moves toward taking control.



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