Your Reputation in the Age of Jerk.com, Revenge Porn, Yelp - Strategist
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Your Reputation in the Age of Jerk.com, Revenge Porn, Yelp

If Jerk.com [via Internet Archive] wasn't dead before, its fate is nearly sealed now.

The no longer online website just got slapped with an administrative complaint [PDF] by the Federal Trade Commission. Jerk allegedly violated Facebook's terms of service by scraping individuals' photos and names without their or Facebook's permission, allowing the site to create profiles for at least 73 million individuals. Visitors could vote "Jerk" or "Not Jerk," and leave comments. Most importantly, the site charged for memberships, implying that the purchase would allow the person to delete or edit their profile.

But it didn't.

Jerk isn't an aberration either. Heck, at its old domain name, a much more hastily put together site, which seems to have been taken offline last night, was capitalizing on the notoriety by hawking T-shirts and trashing BigLaw firms. And we've all heard of revenge porn sites, which have a similar racket: put up something embarrassing, demand payment, then maybe take it down. Maybe.

As a lawyer, your reputation and that of your firm is everything, and you need to be proactive.

Hear All Evil

This is the simplest part, really. Go to Google. Type in your name. Click the "Search Settings" button and change the date range to "Past Week" or "Past Month." Rinse and repeat regularly, and remember to include nicknames and common misspellings.

A quick search of my name brings up a lot of junk, but also a shout-out from the ABA Journal and MyShingle. (Thanks Carolyn!) Where will you find your name? Maybe in a Yelp review? Maybe on a less reputable site, like the now-defunct Jerk.com or in your worst nightmares, a revenge porn website?

Speak No Evil (Yet)

For the vast majority of negative results for your name, they'll be disgruntled clients posting on blogs or review sites, like Yelp. We've already discussed Yelp ad nauseum, but the same approach should be used for any negative content you find online. Start by killing with kindness, while keeping client confidentiality if you are posting on a public forum. Try to resolve the issue with a soft touch, as poking the bear will likely lead to more online rants. Remember, the fresher the complaint, the higher in the search rankings.

Be Evil

When all else fails, you always have the lawyer's toolbox, including cease and desist notices, threatening litigation, and angry phone calls. Of course, we'd never advise you to trample on free speech, especially since that often backfires, and your ludicrous demand letter ends up all over the Web. But if you have a credible argument for defamation, it might be as simple as sending an angry letter to clear up your bad Google results.

Don't Succumb to Evil

Like we saw with Jerk.com, paying the extortionist doesn't always pay. And "reputation management experts" are almost always completely and utterly full of crap. Your best bet is to try the above steps, and if all else fails, push more positive content on to the Internet, such as happy client reviews, to drown out the bad stuff.

As a great Supreme Court justice once said, "the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."

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