when your online reputation takes a hit

A reader writes:

I recently Googled my name (it’s a unique one) and found a site that published my information as a “jerk profile” and allows people to rate me as a person. After doing some research, I found out that it is possible that an online app automatically populates people’s information from Facebook onto this site. I have since taken down my Facebook and tried using other social media sites such as Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, etc. with my full name, but the “jerk profile” still appears on the first page of the Google search for my name, no matter what I do.

So far, there are no comments or any votes, nor is my picture posted (although it seems so easy for anyone to do so). The only thing posted is my full name and hometown. Also, my Twitter and other social media site icons are pictured at the bottom of this site. 

The site makes you pay $25 to have your profile removed, and I know this is a scam, as others online have said it too. From all the research I did, it looks like the only way to have my name removed other than paying is to get a lawyer and go to court. 

I also tried creating other profiles using my name but from other locations such as Michigan, Florida in hopes that employers cannot pinpoint exactly who the “jerk profile” belongs to.

It’s devastating to me.  I wanted to get your opinion of what hiring managers will think if they come across something like this. Would most pass it off as spam or would they second-guess me and my “reckless” online media presence?

What an incredibly mean-spirited (and potentially defamatory) site. And I wonder how legal it is to require $25 to take your information down; I’d love to hear from a lawyer on that.

In any case, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. The good news is that I don’t think employers are likely to be influenced by it, especially since your profile doesn’t have any commentary about you. And even if it did, I don’t think most employers would take it seriously, unless it contained pretty serious character or legal allegations.  In other words, someone saying that you’re a jerk online doesn’t carry much weight, but someone saying that you stole from them or beat your girlfriend would likely raise more discomfort — although even in that case, it would be hard to take seriously a website that uses this model.

However, I can certainly understand why you’re not thrilled that this is coming up in the first page of search results for your name. You might want to try the standard advice for anyone who wants to change the search results on their name, which is to bury it with other items. Start a website, comment on other sites using your full name, and otherwise generate Google hits on your name, so that that pushes this off the first page of results. Populating your search results with other information will make this dumb site a non-issue.

But really, it’s pretty unlikely that any sensible employer is going to take this type of website seriously. They’ll either ignore it entirely or they’ll take the 30 seconds to explore it and end up as disgusted with it as you are.

{ 98 comments… read them below }

    1. Anonymous

      and I should add, of all my friends he uses social media the LEAST and is the most careful about what he posts online, etc…. hence why we found it so funny when we discovered this.

  1. Sara

    I agree that this is mean spirited and awful….but I’m also curious…..DID you do anything to get that “jerk” label?

        1. Anonymous

          …..DID you do anything to get that “jerk” label?

          I never said/implied he deserved it

          Yes you did. Unless I cannot read the English language, you did specifically ask if the OP did something that could classify him/her as a jerk. That or if you did not properly express yourself in saying that the OP made one mistake in his/her life and instead of just calling that a moment being a jerk, they are now classified as such personally. I’ll try to give the benefit of the doubt.

          1. Sara

            My apologies to the OP–in no way did I think or intend to imply that this person deserved to be on such a site, I was/am appalled that someone would even set up such a website.

    1. Anony

      The OP stated that from the research online, it looks like an app relating to Facebook automatically populates this information. It could also be an ex-bf or ex-gf. But we don’t know.

  2. Marie

    I understand this is something that can be fixed by companies like Reputation.com – no doubt for more than $25, but without the frustration of having to pay up for what is essentially blackmail.

      1. A Bug!

        Yup, there have been sites that claim to operate independently but are in fact operated by the same people that put up the offending sites in the first place.

        And anyway, they pretty much do the same thing that anybody with a bit of ‘net savvy can accomplish on their own.

  3. The Editor

    One more thing to note is that search engines often “know” when you are on the site. For example, if you google your name from your home computer, you will get different results than if you google from a public computer because you are not logged in to gmail and so on. It may be that this result is showing up on your computer that high, but not at all on an employers computer. You can test this by closing out all of your gmail, google+, and other sites and then searching for your name.

    1. RG

      or try using the incognito window (Google Chrome), which gives you a “clean” search, without any of your metadata influencing the search.

        1. Elizabeth

          Do you even get anything that *is* you? I’m another Elizabeth, my last name is about as common as yours in the US, and very common in the UK – so I get no hits for my name that are actually me. There aren’t any stars that share my name, but a lot of mildly famous people – an opera singer, a painter, a professor – and a lot of obituaries! Then again, I use my full name online only very rarely outside Facebook, and my Facebook profile is set not to turn up in search engine searches.

          1. Anonymous

            Same here. I only find women with my name in the UK, Ireland and Australia. It actually works out pretty well.

            1. Anonymous

              I have a friend who has the same first, middle and last name AND birth date as a criminal. She has a lot of problems with this!

    2. Neeta

      Precisely. So unless there is an employer who frequently googles your name, it’s not that likely that he’d also get the same thing as you do on the first page.

      To give an example: whenever I Google my website’s name I always get it as the first result on Google. But a lot of other people get it on the 2nd results page.

      So until you’re actually harmed by such a thing I’d say not to worry too much.

      1. Natalie

        IANAL, but calling someone a jerk online probably doesn’t meet the typical defamation standard in the US. There are exceptions to defamation law for opinion, hyperbole, and so forth.

        Additionally, even if this was defamation it wouldn’t be a violation of criminal law, just civil. Civil cases only happen if the wronged party initiates – that’s why law enforcement doesn’t typically end up investigating defamation or copyright violations.

      2. jmkenrick

        Even if it were violating a criminal law, (which I don’t think it is) my understanding is that taking down illegal sites and keeping them down is virtually impossible.

        It’s like battling cockroaches in a kitchen.

        1. Natalie

          One of my favorite lines from NewsRadio, which was also surprisingly prescient given it was cancelled in 1999, is from Joe the electrician: “You can’t take things off the Internet. It’s like trying to get pee out of a swimming pool.”

        2. LK

          But if you go after the owner of the website, then wouldn’t that help a bit more rather than going after the host server of the site?

        3. KayDay

          If their really trying to blackmail people, I think that would be illegal.

          But considering that they can’t keep terrorists, neo-nazis, and human traffickers off the internet, I don’t think this site has much to worry about.

  4. Juni

    Enter yourself in a chip-timed race or two. That’ll flood your first five or so pages of results and bump this lower.

    1. Natalie

      This is kind of brilliant. Your future employers may think poorly of your marathon running skills, but who cares?

  5. Ryan

    Ignore it…sticks and stones.

    Never heard of the site anyway but it sounds like it’s run and frequented by the most charming individuals.

    Don’t let them rent space in your head and sure as H*LL don’t pay them money…it just encourages their bad behavior.

  6. Lisa

    OP – DO NOT ENGAGE WITH THIS SITE AT ALL. The second you start negotiating with them, and then don’t pay them $25 (could be higher if they realize you are worried then up the price), there will suddenly be some negative things add to this profile which makes it even more of a scam than you realize.

    Insulating your full name with Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, etc. is the preferred practice of brand management, but also linking these profiles across each other helps too. Don’t forget Instagram, Pinterest, and Foursquare. Also Yelp, TripAdvisor, Opentable, Classmates, Mylife, and Myspace (yes, still works) are easy to get ahead of these types of sites with your profiles. Look at what other sites are ranking below the jerk site. Any news articles that mention you? Got a blog? Link your blog to any news article that ranks below this jerk site as it will give a boost to the article and push the bad site further down.

    1. A Bug!

      Listen to this. This is pretty much the most effective thing a regular person can do to combat these listings.

      You’re lucky, in that if it’s automatically-generated, it means you probably don’t have someone specifically out to smear you on the Internet. It should be relatively painless to push this result down to the second page, and hopefully anybody who reads results that far is also a person who understands the false nature of the site.

      (It makes me want to put together a half-dozen sites of my own – “thenicestpeopleonearth.com and totallyawesomefolks.net, that scrape sites like the jerk site for info.)

        1. Joe

          Ha! That brings back memories of the email harvesting scam site that went around my college campus at one point, where you could go and put in your email address, and the email address of someone you had a crush on. It would then send them an email telling them “Someone has a crush on you!”, and invite them to put in the email address of people _they_ had a crush on. Supposedly, if there was a match, it would notify both parties, and they would live happily ever after. I don’t know if it actually did that or not, but it was a great way to harvest emails for spammers.

  7. Another anonymous

    There’s a website that lists my full name, location, the online handle I go by, and has pictures of me and my family. I moderate an online community, and one person I blocked from the site went well out of his way to make horribly defamatory statements about me, calling me awful names, demeaning my body type, stating that I wasn’t even attractive enough to rape. You probably can see why I blocked him from the site.

    Anyway, the information is there, though not super high on a Google search. I’m pretty sure any potential employers who might see it would be horrified by what a jerk this guy is — the evidence he put on there of how I’m such an awful person shows me to be relatively level-headed and firm in requiring civil behavior from him. But it felt shocking and very hurtful when I first got wind of the web page.

    1. ChristineH

      I didn’t think it was possible for someone’s online handle to turn up in search results of your full name since you don’t see a person’s account information (when you first register on a site) on a community board. Sure you can access a person’s profile, but I always make sure to include my only first name and state. Could someone really come across my activity on community boards just by Googling my real name? Most are variations of what I use on here except for one board where I have an actual alias that only hints at what state I’m from.

      1. fposte

        I think Another anonymous was talking about a posting where somebody had deliberately included both AA’s real name and online handle.

      2. AIH

        If you never published anything with your full name (first and last) then I would doubt that anyone who Googles your full name will be able to find your posts, if that’s what you’re asking.

  8. danr

    Have you reported the site to Google ? They’ll take a look and see if the rankings should be lower in response to a search… like 10,0001.
    In addition to the other advice about turning everything Google off, use a non-Chrome browser, with the privacy settings on to look at the site, or go to a library and use their computers.
    And, if you feel confident, go into the cookies section for your browsers and Flash and look for this site. Remove any cookies that they’ve set, so they can’t track you. And block future cookies.

    1. Anony

      Google tends to claims that it is only a search engine that searches all the contents on the web. Google does not work as a host for these sites. So unless the information is confidential such as bank account numbers or SSNs, offensive material, etc, then Google will not act to remove the material.

      1. danr

        No, they won’t remove the material, but they’ll move the site way down in the general search rankings, which can simulate removal. They don’t like scammy sites gaming their system.

  9. Liz

    There is a way to request Google not display that page on the search results. You need a gmail account I think.
    1. Search for Google Webmaster Tools and log in when prompted.
    2. In the bottom left hand corner type “remove a result” into the search field.
    3. Click on “Remove a page or result from Google’s search results.”
    From there I hope you can follow the prompts and get some relief! Best of luck!

      1. Karen

        AAM,

        That’s not necessarily true ;-) I’ve used the google removal tool to get my name out of google search results and IT WORKS!!!!! I used it to get my name to stop appearing in search results from a freelance website I used to use, and then from another photo sharing site that I forget my login info!

        It won’t remove the page from the web, but it will remove it from google search results.

        1. KiP

          It only works if the page has been taken down by the host website. It most likely removed your name from the cache pages. and from there, the actual page itself.

    1. Anony

      True, however, this only works when the actual webpage has been taken down by the host. If the page is still live with the OP’s full name, then Google will not remove it from its search engine.

  10. Patricia Chaffee

    Oy, how frustrating. I agree with Alison that the more positive interactions you engage in online, the more quickly this will disappear. I recommend to my candidates that they first create a Gravatar account (as Alison uses here on her site) and use the same picture for ALL of their social media accounts so that people get to recognize your face. Then go to a site like http://www.brandyourself.com (I have no affiliation with them but it has worked for me personally) and you can choose which links are associated with your name in a positive and a negative way. It truly seems to work, it is free, and it allows you to include three positive links (your LinkedIn profile, Twitter, perhaps a professional blog) to your name. I also tend to recommend http://www.about.me (again, no affiliation), as you can create a professional one page story about yourself and link it to your name and Google tends to rank it fairly high. To that end, I would also recommend finding a professional blog in your niche that is high ranking and fairly name recognizable, and start to comment, in a very professional way that lends value to the audience, and these interactions will start to take over the negative one. I am so sorry you have to endure this, especially during a job search which can be stressful enough. Best of luck and I hope that helps.

  11. A Bug!

    You might like to bring this site to the attention of someone like Marco Randazza, or Kenneth White, who contribute to the Legal Satyricon and Popehat respectively. These are lawyers with a strong interest in this sort of thing, and have previously taken up legal fights (or helped to find pro bono legal assistance in relevant states) against slimy folks on behalf of people who are in similar situations. What that site is doing could be extortion.

    Now, that aside, here’s a thing that non-lawyers can do to combat stuff like this, and it might sound counter-intuitive. Lisa above has outlined it. You don’t want to remove your online presence, because that’ll leave the jerk site as the only hit for your name! You want to flood Google with benign listings and do everything you can to increase their standing in the search results. Inter-link them, get your friends to link to them.

    Good luck!

  12. Meaghan

    Honestly, I wouldn’t worry about it. No employer with half a brain would take it seriously, especially given that nobody’s even ranked you!

    My husband shares a name and google results with a neo-nazi, which was a horrible thing to discover when he opened his own consultancy! Luckily blogging and twittering have pushed that guy way down.

    1. Sasha

      Oh my. Glad he was able to push it down. My husband shares a name with a doughnut thief, and that was a hilarious morning when I went into work and everyone asked me when he was getting out of jail.

      1. Agile Phalanges

        An ex-boyfriend of mine shared a name with the title character of a TV show that was about a gay porn star. It was the name of the character, not an actor or real person, so that helps–anyone who paid enough attention to the search results should catch on to that pretty quickly, but since he owned his own business, he obviously didn’t love that some people might make the association. I think that falls somewhere between neo-Nazi and donut thief, personally. :-)

  13. KayDay

    I personally wouldn’t pay much, if any attention to it if I were the hiring manager. I would imagine that most reasonable people wouldn’t think much of it either.

    It still really sucks for you (and I will have to google my name again soon); definitely don’t give them any money at all!!!!!!!!! But don’t freak out about employers seeing it.

    By the way, if you do set up additional accounts to drown this site out, be sure to check them occasionally! I rarely used my former twitter account, and when I finally logged back in someone had hacked my account and made a bunch of crazy posts (I don’t remember what exactly; it was offensive, but also very obviously not me if you saw my profile or read my previous tweets). RIP my twitter account.

    1. All a-Twitter

      Actually, Twitter is an excellent way to bump bad search results and improve your own rep at the same time. Follow respected people in your field and retweet them… interact with other people you like… share good articles and resources that you find. It will prove that you’re not a jerk while also moving the jerk site on down the page. Win/win.

      1. KayDay

        Oh yes, you’re right; I didn’t mean to say don’t get twitter at all! Just be sure to check it and have a better password than I did– it’s a hot target for hackers (who then try to scam your friends, from what I’ve read on the subject).

        1. All a-Twitter

          And I didn’t mean to say you were wrong for getting rid of your account. :-) I was writing on the 2-inch space on my cell phone, and kind of forgot that I was replying to a comment instead of writing to the LW. I’m sorry you got hacked.

  14. fposte

    Well, the site’s obviously bogus, because it says there are only two jerks at my entire university, and I know a lot more than that.

    Seriously, this is a bathroom wall of the internet; it’s like being called a crappy thing in a YouTube comment. I can’t imagine anyone with the technical ability to Google a candidate caring in the slightest.

    1. A Bug!

      For the most part I agree with you – most people who Google candidates won’t take much stock in a result like that.

      But you don’t need technical ability to Google a candidate, especially these days where it’s being more commonly recommended in media articles and things like that. And you know what they say – a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!

      A manager who hears that any worthwhile manager Googles their potential candidates, but who lacks the critical thinking and Internet savvy to understand the nature of sites like this? I could easily picture someone like that tossing aside applicants over it, or at the very least allowing the listing to colour their perception of the candidate such that otherwise-benign things might be interpreted as a red flag in light of the listing.

      1. fposte

        Have you looked at the site, though? It’s pretty blatantly not an opinion site but a hit-trap, with lots of interaction on what generic characteristics you think this person has and offers to buy and sell information. Sure, it’s possible that somebody of the “how does Mr. Google know my name?” level of understanding will get confused by it, but really, I think the chance of that is pretty slim. To be clear, I’m not saying this across the board for internet mentions–I’m saying that this particular site makes its automation and money-grubbing motives pretty clear.

        1. A Bug!

          I think you have more faith than I do in the critical thinking skills of Internet users, fposte! Not a bad thing.

          My current perspective’s probably been skewed by the flood of “legal notices” on my Facebook wall coming from people I had considered very ‘net-savvy.

            1. Agile Phalanges

              You don’t even need to check Snopes–it should be fairly obvious that posting something to your own wall on FB doesn’t actually negate any contract you have with them (which yes, is implied by agreeing to their terms and conditions, which you do if you have an account with them). Also, that them becoming publicly traded has nothing to do with whatever you post on FB becoming public domain. Two different concepts, people, and it shoudn’t take a lawyer to understand that.

              I love the one going around that says, “All you need to know about privacy on Facebook: Don’t post anything private on Facebook.”

  15. ChristineH

    I always get nervous whenever this topic comes up!! I have a pretty common first and last name and have even come across people of the same name whenever I search for myself on Facebook or LinkedIn.

    I do agree with the others–it’s definitely unnerving, but any reasonable employer would know that this is just a scammy or mean-spirited site, especially if your online presence overall is otherwise benign. I do get nervous, though, because as I said above, my name is pretty common, and I just hope that it’s not accidentally attached to another person of my name with a less-than-favorable history. Sure I could search myself beyond the social media sites I use, but I’m too chicken to do so.

    1. A Bug!

      The fact that you have a common name is a point in your favour, actually. People will be less inclined to believe that a given listing is you without specific supporting information such as employer name or location information.

      I have a somewhat uncommon name, and I share a last name with a popular fictional character, such that when I first entered the workforce, one of the top results for my name was someone else’s Mary Sue fanfiction! Thankfully, since the Internet has grown, there are several, real, people who share my name to fill out the Google results.

    2. LK

      I agree with Christine. I would think that a common name is in your favor too, because with so many Jane Smiths out there, employers wouldn’t be able to pinpoint which profile actually belongs to you when something negative does come up.

      1. Sasha

        Sharing a name with a celebrity helps, even if just first or last name. My real name is one letter off from an actress so I rarely see anything related to me when I google myself.

    3. Anonymous

      I have the opposite situation. I’m the ONLY me on the internet. If you Google my name, every single result has to do with ME. Entire job history? Check. Old addresses? Check. Exercise log? CHECK (gosh darn it, Daily Mile!). Hideously ugly pictures on Flickr from a party that happened six years ago that some jerk tagged with my full name? Check, check, check. I wish there were some other results to pepper in there but no, it’s all me. Luckily none if it is too terrible but it makes me really think about what I’m posting online… and I keep an eye on it. I have a Google alert!

      1. Anony

        If the material is not on the actual page anymore, I would try to use the Google Removal tool to delete some of it if you can.

      2. Ellie H.

        I have one other “me” on the internet with the version of my name that I commonly use – I have a quite uncommon surname and a fairly uncommon first name – and there are NO other “mes” with my real, first and hyphenated last two names (I would be really freaked out if there were). It’s relatively clear that we are different people because we live in different countries and she is much older, but interestingly, we both work in university administration.

        1. Jamie

          I knew there was another me out there, although she’s in her mid-20s and of Asian descent and plays competitive volleyball so were not exactly interchangeable.

          So just googled and two more have sprung up. The only thing the four of us have in common is that three of them are not me.

          This is pretty weird given I thought I had a pretty uncommon name…Im actually considering hyphenation now. If there turns out to be another Jamie Uncommonski-Slightlymorecommonbutstilluncommonski out there it will really freak me out.

  16. DawnSpringHR

    You might try contacting the folks at EFF.org. They are lawyers, and they are interested in keeping the Internet a safe, sane place. They are also a non-profit, so you don’t NEED a ton of money to get them involved.

    (full disclosure: my sister is their Director of IP)

  17. Anonymous

    So would this be any different if a profile AND picture from Facebook was posted on the offensive site?

  18. De Minimis

    I have the opposite problem with Google, when I type my name one of the top results is for a model who shares my name. Anyone who would call me in based on that is in for a big disappointment.

    1. I'm a nice girl, really...

      In a somewhat similar, but more ominous vein, I share a name with a very prolific internet porn star. I show up in the first page, but she dominates the results for pages and pages, with search snippets that are disturbingly vulgar when they happen to be attached to your name on the internet (and I’m not a huge prude). I wish there were a way to trademark my name :/…

  19. Mark

    I heard a story on NPR’s excellent On the Media last week about a site that does something similar, but worse. It posts nude or other compromising photos of people and there is another site run by a supposed “lawyer” that can “help” take the photo down for $250. As it turns out the 2 sites are related. I was shocked by what this site does, and taken together with the site that the OP was referring to, it seems that this trend may get worse before it gets better. Here is a link to the story:
    http://www.onthemedia.org/2012/nov/16/is-anybody-down/

    Another commenter mentioned attorney Marc Randzza who is interviewed in this story. He is trying to fight the site and others like it. I think it might be a good idea to contact him.

    1. Anon

      Interesting. I didn’t get a chance to listen to the whole thing, but from my understanding, the site is linking to the actual picture itself; it’s not editing the pics to make it look like someone is posing nude is it?

  20. JB

    When I googled my name, the first listing was a Facebook Profile. If you click on that link, you are seeing the rear end of a stripper using my name. By the way, my name is unusual and it is unlikely anyone else would have my exact spelling. I guess it could be worse. Come to think of it, it may help my employment prospects if they Google my name. Maybe I should thank her? (Wink)

  21. Anonymous

    If you can find the state it is located in you can contact that state’s attorney general, that is internet fraud and slander.

  22. Alysia

    I dated a guy when I was in high school, and when we broke up, his best friend went to the LiveJournal comments section of everyone I had friended and wrote a huge rant about how “FULLNAME cheated on my best friend and is a horrible person and blah blah”. High school drama involving LiveJournal? Shocking. It didn’t matter that when I was 16 I probably didn’t even know what cheating was, he just wanted to hurt me. Most friends deleted the comment quickly, but a few of those “friends” were feeds for webcomics or inactive, so I couldn’t get them pulled.

    I chose to ignore it until I got older and started applying for jobs. My name is very uncommon, and it was one of the first things that popped up for years. While hiring managers should have probably just ignored it, I went on a quest to get it deleted. I emailed Google, LiveJournal, admins for the feeds, anything I could get my hands on. Somehow or another it worked, and if it is still out there, it isn’t showing up anymore.

  23. Omne

    I’m pretty lucky. I live in the US but my last name is very uncommon here while it’s very common in the UK. I have to dig through at least 4-5 pages to find anything on me even if I try to narrow it down with search terms.

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