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Slandered Online? Here’s What to Do

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HS - Jason Hartman Income Property Investing (1)A friend Googles your name and on the front page, in the No. 1 position, is something negative about you. It could be a bad review, an old incriminating photo, or even an old criminal mug shot for some petty crime you committed in college. How did it get there and by whom? Join Jason Hartman as he interviews Steven Wyer, online Reputation Advocate, on the subject of online reputation management. Steven discusses the many different types of negative content that can surface from a variety of sources, including public records, a vindictive ex-spouse, a business competitor, postings in a blog or forum, etc. For more details, visit: www.HolisticSurvival.com. He also shares many of the challenges that people that have been slandered online face in repairing the damage. A big challenge is that anyone can post anything anonymously and sites are not evaluating these posts or comments for validity and accuracy. Steven explains several ways for you to protect yourself, including understanding what drives search engines and how content makes it into the No. 1 position on a search engine. He recommends you always check the terms and conditions of a website where the negative content has been found to see if the site has violated them. Buy all of your domains for your business. He then talks about damage control if you should find yourself a victim of online slander.

Steven Wyer has lived with the shadow side of the Internet ever since his business, his family and his credibility were attacked without warning online. Given his professional work history, Wyer never expected this type of attack would happen to him. Now, through Reputation Advocate, Inc., he focuses his efforts toward helping others who have been slandered online as he was. In 1992, Steven Wyer established Wyer Creative Communications, Inc., a fully integrated direct marketing company focused on financial services. Wyer Creative utilized proprietary computer telephony integration and data rich information to support the efforts of 400 employees based out of two national call centers. The company was recognized in 1999 as the fastest growing company in middle Tennessee for five consecutive years and appointed to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce Hall Of Fame for private business. Steven Wyer’s clients included General Electric, Chase, H&R Block, Equitable Securities, CTX, Banc One and First USA. Over the next nine years, Wyer Creative would influence the way the mortgage industry created, processed and serviced its clients. This period of time ushered in the “next wave” – consumers and the Internet. According to Steven Wyer, “Even a decade ago, the average consumer was not interacting with electronic information on a daily basis. But that all changed quickly. Google was born in 1998 and by 2001 everyone knew what search engines could do.”

Steven Wyer has been a consultant to financial institutions involved in consumer lending and collections, mortgage lending and institutional asset management. His professional memberships have included the National Association of Securities Dealers, The Mortgage Bankers Association, The Direct Marketing Association, American Teleservices Association, The Debt Buyers Association and most recently the eMarketing Association. “Every one of these industries is now driven almost completely by the Internet,” reflects Wyer. From 2001 until 2005, Steven Wyer built two companies that acquired and collected on just under one billion dollars’ worth of consumer debt. Fourteen call centers, three law firms and information built these companies into very powerful recovery platforms.

“Those businesses were all built on information found on the Internet. We had access to a tremendous amount of instant information; it’s what drove the business,” says Wyer. The companies ended up in litigation and all of the information and speculation surrounding the court activity wound up on the Internet. Wyer says that his life was irrevocably damaged by information found online. “It was shocking that people from the other side of the world asked questions that had nothing to do with the professional relationship I had developed with them. Both businesses ended up shutting their doors because of information I had no control over.” In 2006, Wyer diversified his professional interests. He served as a principal in a private equity fund that provided fixed rate, fixed term financing for small and midsized public companies. This company was also negatively impacted by the information found online about Wyer’s former businesses. While it is said that parties are innocent until proven guilty, Steven Wyer experienced first hand that the Internet has upended such long held notions of justice. For the first time, he was confronted with the shadow side of the Internet. Wyer says that he has come to realize that there is real damage being done today because of search engine information that is incorrect, malicious or outdated.

“Today, the level of negative information, slander, half truths and spin is out of control,” says Steven Wyer. “Negative information found on the Internet impacts every area of life, and yet there is little that most people can do to correct it. It is unbelievable what this type of information is doing to the fabric of our society. A great man once said that a good reputation is hard earned over a lifetime but it can be gone in the blink of an eye.” Wyer notes that a disgruntled employee, a customer having a bad day, a frivolous lawsuit, envy, anger, even lust – it all has an unfiltered outlet through the Internet and the damage is hard to manage. Steven Wyer’s book, Violated Online, delves into the stories behind online slander. The book offers more than 50 specific tips on how the reader can better prepare for an unexpected online attack. The book has opened up speaking opportunities throughout North America, and now Wyer juggles the demands of a thriving business, setting aside time for his next book and the demands of travel.

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Start of Interview with Steven Wyer
Jason Hartman: My pleasure to welcome Steven Wyer to the show. He is an expert on reputations. I’ve always believed that you only get one chance to have a good reputation. He’s got a couple of different websites and a book out about being violated online, and he’s a reputation advocate. So if you’ve ever been concerned and if you haven’t, you should be, about your online reputation this show will be of particular interest to you. Steven, welcome. How are you?

Steven Wyer: Thanks so much for having me.

Jason Hartman: My pleasure. So you’re coming to us today from Franklin, Tennessee it looks like.

Steven Wyer: That’s right. The national metropolitan area in the southern part of the US.

Jason Hartman: Great place. Well I love Nashville. I’ve had a lot of good times there. Tell us about the problem, first of all if you would, with the internet. There are obviously first amendment free speech issues here, but the question is how far does it go?

Steven Wyer: Yeah and it’s such a broad topic that we could talk for hours about it because there are so many facets. Everything focuses around a very narrow body of law. For all that our government has done and all the laws that have been put in place, everything that we experience online is basically regulated by two laws that were passed in the mid-90s. Now of course, in the mid-90s, that is 96/98, there was no Twitter, there was no Facebook, there was no Google. There was none of that. And yet the core documents that govern the entire body of law were created then and have really not been supplemented or amended since then. So there’s a very narrow body of law, which means it’s the wild, wild west out there. And when you walk into that type of environment, I think the biggest surprise to people is they don’t realize how exposed they are until something happens.

And I guess that’s true of many aspects of life, right? You never think you’re going to have a car accident so you don’t put the seat belt on, and then you have the car accident. Well, our business deals with all those people that didn’t put a seat belt on, and they’ve had an accident. And those accidents, they can look like all kinds of things. They can look like, if you’re a retail business, bad reviews. Most negative reviews we track down and find. They either come from former employees or competitors. And it materially damages the business. There’s a form of attack, a form of slander. City, county, state and federal court houses are now scanning historical documents to empty out the file rooms. Those documents are now being placed online for easy access. So things that even 5 years ago, in order to find out the information about me that you want to know, you’d have to hire a firm that would do some research. Somebody would have to go to a court house and pull a file. Now with a few key strokes and $19.95, you’ve got every piece of information out there.

Jason Hartman: What’s the $19.95 reference?

Steven Wyer: Mostly sites will charge you some fee. It might be $4.95 or $5.95 for printing rights because you’ll want to print them out. So the information is virtually there. And you don’t have to go to Idaho, where I used to live to go to a court house. All you’ve got to do is take a minute and a half and you’ve got all the information. There’s all kinds of information coming out of the court house – allegations, initial lawsuits that weren’t resolved, divorce, adoption, bankruptcy. There’s one website alone that has over 4 million mug shots on it.

Jason Hartman: Criminal mug shots you mean?

Steven Wyer: Mug shots, but lots of them were DUI, petty theft and they were disposed of, first time offenders, and their records were expunged. But the photographs that were taken at the time of booking have made their way onto the internet. So you’ve got a guy that ten years ago had a petty theft, had his record expunged, paid a fine, did some public service a decade ago. And he wakes up tomorrow morning and his friend calls and says hey, when I searched your name just now, right in the number one position on page one, is Mugshots.com and it says you’re a criminal.

Jason Hartman: Yeah, and that’s especially bad a young person. I guess it’s not going to apply to a juvenile I hope. But if they’re 18 years old and then they’re 28 ten years later and they’re living a good life and being a good citizen – it’s common for kids to get in trouble here and there.

Steven Wyer: It’s not even just kids. I come from a perspective that says everybody makes mistakes. Nobody should have to pay for them for forever if they’re petty. And the internet is forever.

Jason Hartman: Well that’s the thing. That’s what I wanted to ask you about. I think there is a law that I heard about in France. I think the French have a different view of this. And of course, that doesn’t really matter because the web is global. But I think in France, things have to come down after a couple of years. Like it doesn’t last forever on the French internet. But of course any French citizen could be on the rest of the internet. But if it’s a French website, I think there is some sort of rule that they have to take things down.

Steven Wyer: Well in Europe in general, in some ways they’re much more progressive than we are as it relates to the internet. And there are changes going on in the law in Europe in general country by country. And I can’t speak for those because I haven’t studied them enough other than to tell you that the one thing I can tell you factually is that 7 countries in Europe are in the midst of criminal proceedings against Google for violation of privacy acts. And here in the United States, Google walks around with impunity.

Jason Hartman: Because Google is in bed with the government. So is Facebook. Everybody thinks that.

Steven Wyer: There’s a bit of speculation. So anyhow, Europe does a lot of stuff differently from how we do. But we live here and we deal with this reality, and actually Google Europe, Google Asia, those platforms are totally independent platforms. They’re connected together but computer search results, if I searched your name and I was in London, I would not see anything near what the same search that I would see here in the US.

Jason Hartman: Talk to us a little bit about what people do. Are they just knocking down search results by posting other content and getting those results to drop in the line? What is the solution for this? And then I want to circle back and talk a little more about the problem.

Steven Wyer: Well it’s like anything else. The solution is defined by what the problem is to begin with. So you really have to begin to look and see where is your issue coming from? Every website if you go to their landing page, has terms and conditions of operation. So if there’s slander, if you’ve been slandered, there’s information out there. The first thing your listeners want to do is they want to go to the terms and conditions and read those. Because they may find that the content posted about them is actually a violation of the websites own terms and conditions. And they just haven’t monitored, haven’t found it. And in those cases, if there’s a violation of the sites own terms and conditions, you can contact the site and they’ll delete the information. Problem solved. That will work good. If there are issues like nudity, full social securities or bank numbers, or FEIN tax numbers for corporations that have made their way into postings and you contact Google, Google will delete them. They’re a violation of the terms and conditions that Google operate under.

Jason Hartman: How do you contact Google, though? People listening to this must be thinking how do you do that?

Steven Wyer: You can’t call them. There’s a link. And you file a report and you send it and they respond. So it is a big black box in one way, but at least for our firm, we have been very successful at helping clients do that. And you see those situations in an ugly divorce where the one spouse will have nude pictures of the other and decide as part of vindication to post them up. I’ll show him or her. And of course, Google will knock those down. So we have clients like that. Terms and conditions, that’s a place to begin. Things that are very challenging to deal with that are legitimate are court documents and press documents. And by press I’m talking traditional press in the form of either print or video links. So you’ve got newspaper reports or you’ve got television reports.

Jason Hartman: And government. I assume government type stuff. You said court documents. So how do you deal with those?

Steven Wyer: Well it depends what it is. The problem with all of the sources I just mentioned is they’re all matters of public record and that’s the way they’re managed and in terms of people being damaged by it, I always tell the story that’s in the front of the book Violated Online. I had a medical professional contact me. He had a 30 year history, senior partner in a large practice at a hospital, had a nurse allege sexual impropriety. Criminal charges, cuffed him, he did the perp walk out the front of the hospital, the news cameras were that. The subsequent hearing, the jury trial – he was totally and completely exonerated and the record was expunged because it was determined that this same woman had made the same type of allegations 7 years previously, different state, different hospital. So the guy’s record was complete expunged. His first page and second page search results were all the media feeds that were there.

So all of the newspapers, all of the television reports, that’s what you found for the guy. So there’s no police record, and yet his search results totally destroyed him to the point that he left his vocation and went in a different direction for a career. It put him out of medical practice. And I hear these stories every day. You can’t make this stuff up. I sit down with my wife at night and say you’re not going to believe what I heard today. That’s one of the interesting parts of my business.

So what do you do about that? And the answer is that there are technical, mechanical, disciplined ways of influencing page results. If you start with the question, when you search a term, why when you get ten results, why is the first result in position one? Why is it there? So let’s say I live in Nashville and I search the term Nashville pizza. And your search results, there’s always ten results on a page. And the question is why is Joey’s Pizza in position one and Tommy’s pizza in position ten? Well, it’s all counter intuitive because it has nothing to do with the length of time they’re in business, the quality of their product, the price of their product. It doesn’t have anything to do with the pretty pictures, the nice colors – it doesn’t have anything to do with any of that. It has to do with very technical structures in the way that websites are built and the way that they are connected and the way they interface and interact with search engines. So if you understand that and then you can develop ways so that positive content interacts with those search engines in a positive way and the derogatory negative content is diminished in value from a search perspective, you can elevate positive content and you can suppress negative content. And over some period of time, you can actually influence what people see and how they perceive you.

Jason Hartman: Right. And that’s of course on the broader internet. But what do you do about social media sites? Nowadays with Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter I guess too, things really changed in this one way. Of course they changed in a lot of ways but in this particular way when it comes to reputation management, it’s like we have instead of the big broad internet, now we have a bunch of walls with moats. And those are basically controlled by the list of who are your friends. So on Facebook you can have up to 5,000 friends for example, on LinkedIn I don’t know how many connections you can have. But those are walled networks. So you don’t even see them on a search but there may be a lot of reputation damage being committed within those walls and you may not even know it.

Steven Wyer: The thing I’m going to say right off the bat is that most of that is self-inflicted. And by that I mean that if you handle those social sites on a casual basis and are not methodical and thoughtful about your settings and about checking and about rechecking your settings on an ongoing basis. You are the one that exposes yourself. So unlike the internet, unlike the internet as a whole…

Jason Hartman: Yeah I got you there. That’s not what I was getting at. I was getting at if you are a business person and someone else is doing it to your within their walled network. So yes, we may control our settings and one of the things you said was very good advice because what you said is if you’re not rechecking those settings, because you know how Facebook is – they love to just change things on us without telling us. And suddenly you can go there and your settings can just be completely different from what you thought they were originally. So that’s great advice of course. But what do you do if someone else is committing that damage inside of their walled network? Because unless somebody tells you, it won’t even show up on search results. Maybe there’s nothing you can do.

Steven Wyer: What we’re struggling with again – we’ve gone full circle now, and what we’re struggling with again is the first amendment. And the first amendment says that I’m entitled to my opinion. Now when I express my opinion in public, and we would think of public as television, radio, newspaper, print, there is a nice broad body of law of what is slander? What is libel? And you’re called into accountability. If I say something about you and it’s on the radio and it’s not true, you have recourse against me. On the internet, it changes in two ways. First of all, in the big internet, as you referred to it the global internet, I have the ability to go on blogs, forms and slander sites and there are hundreds of them, I can say anything I want about you. I can sign it Mickey Mouse and that content will be there for 20 years. The site stands on the first amendment. The site discloses in its terms and conditions that it doesn’t try to validate any claim or statement made and very seldom will that content ever be taken down. So you’ve got anonymity is one issue, on the internet that you haven’t had to deal with in the history of our country. Anonymity is a big deal.

The second piece is those sites, and so now we’ll talk about closed networks, so it’s not the internet now but it’s a closed vertical market. It’s the same thing as if you came in and looked at my desk and I had written down Tom is a bad guy, and Bob is a criminal and I’ve got notes all over my desk. That’s my private stuff. And basically my Facebook is my private stuff and I have the right in my private space to pine in any way I want. Now, the way you deal with that, and most people don’t think about it when they’re accepting friends, but the way you deal with that in the beginning is who you let into your network to begin with.

I use the boyfriend/girlfriend example all the time. You’re boyfriend and girlfriend and you’re Facebook friends, and your friends see her friends and her friends see your friends and then you break up. Well everybody has been connected. And at that point the only option you’ve got is to disconnect yourself from the dialogue. But if Tom and Tanya are now friends on Facebook and Tom’s your friend and Tanya’s my friend, they’re connected. You can’t break them apart. They’ve got their own relationship now.

And the most graphic example I can give you is again in the book Violated Online. And it’s a call that I got from a couple that had gone through a divorce. They had gotten married, loved their families and decided to get on FamilyTree.com. You’ve probably heard of that site – it’s an ancestry site where you build your family tree and it’s so much fun, and they built their family trees at Christmas. And there was infidelity in the relationship, subsequent divorce, and that happens all the time. But what they didn’t count on was all the connectivity between the two expanded families. The in-laws and outlaws, the cousins and nephews and everybody that had connected through the digital medium that existed. And so long after the marriage was dissolved and the couple had gone their separate ways, there was this festering feud of content that was going back and forth between families that was the equivalent of a digital Hatfields & McCoys, you can’t do anything about that. And if you’d think about those things when you begin that process of the family tree, when you take out your Facebook account, when you sign up for Twitter, you’ll approach it more cautiously. But most people, they’re in a hurry to get through, they check that terms and conditions box, they get their information. They have a wonderful user experience and they never think about the exposure on the back side.

Jason Hartman: Yeah. These things are great tools but they do carry real consequences with them. Well give us an example, even a famous one if you like, or especially a famous one, of a reputation management problem I mean. Herman Cain’s been in the news, Governor Brownback’s been in the news. Any of these that you want to bring up?

Steven Wyer: Depending on whether you’re talking about social media, regular media or you’re talking about Tweets, when Mubarak stepped down – half an hour before Mubarak stepped down, Katie Couric Tweeted that he’d stepped down. It went out to 128,000 of her closest friends. That all happened to be in the media. She jumped the gun on it and it created a major media storm for her. And it was because of a simple Tweet. And of course we know about sports figures and politicians that have had inappropriate Tweets and had it come back to hurt them. The most recent one is the governor of Kansas, which is Governor Brownback at the end of November. And if your listeners will simply go out and put his name in, you’ll see what’s happened. His name is simply Sam Brownback. Sam had visitors from high school there at the governor’s office. And met a nice girl named Emma Sullivan. Emma was an 18 year old student. And as she left the governor’s office, having met him along with her class, she decided to grab her cellphone and Tweet. And she Tweeted a message that was something like, just made comments to Governor Brownback and told him he sucked in person. And it went out to her 60 followers, her friends. Well, every politician has a communications director and the governor’s communication’s director was monitoring social media. Every public figures monitor social media now. He saw that Tweet some across and felt compelled to call the principal of that school. The principal called the student in and the principal demanded that the student write a letter of apology. And right then and there we stepped into the world of free speech. Where’s the line? Does an 18 year old girl have the right to express her opinion to her 60 friends on Twitter? She refused to write an apology letter. It went from 60 friends to 8,000 followers within 24 hours. It was one of the lead stories on CNN online. That story on CNN online got over 7800 comments within the first 24 hours. And subsequently what happened was you had the Los Angeles Times carry it as their lead story, it had 825 additional articles tied to it with real nice headings like cute girl says Brownback sucks, Brownback sics the Kansas state government on her, demanding an apology, Brownback eats crow and admits he was out of line.

Jason Hartman: And she now has thousands and thousands of new followers.

Steven Wyer: Thousands. Thousands of new followers. And so you’ve taken a non-event and turned it into a major media circus. And now when you look at the governor’s search results and you want to find out okay, I’m thinking about governor Brownback. What’s he done for my state? When you search his name now, what you’ll find is that his search results are now inundated with all of the media feeds from this Twitter incident. So it’s discredited his office, and it as a non-event. And the media director, which I feel very bad for her, because the first two pages of her search results, and there’s ten results on a page, so the first 20 postings for her search results, 17 of them have to do with the faux pas she made on this Twitter incident. She’ll never work again. You know the old saying “You’ll never work in this town again”? Well the internet amplifies that.

Jason Hartman: It sure does. The internet amplifies everything for good and bad. Well any final tips that you want to share with people? And give out your website as well please.

Steven Wyer: Yeah. I can give you three or four. The first is you’ve got to acknowledge what’s online about you. People tell me all the time, I don’t do the internet. And my response is, you may not do the internet but the internet does you. Because you’re already online. Public information is already out there and there are dozens of data aggregation sites. I always tell people if they want to be surprised, there’s a site called Spokeo.com. Go to Spokeo.com, it’s aggregating public records information and you will be astounded about what the world can find out about you. So you’re already online. First of all, get educated – find out what’s out there about you.

Jason Hartman: Say that website again. Pokeo?

Steven Wyer: Spokeo. You’ll just be very surprised by what’s there. So you’ve got to know what’s there. When you’re looking for what’s there, do yourself a favor. Look up your first name and your last name, look up your first name, middle name, last name. Because legal documents have your legal name on them. Look up your first name, middle initial, last name, so that you’re getting a comprehensive perspective about what’s out there. Because the search results for those three searches will in all probability be different. So find out what’s out there about you.

Second piece of advice. And you’ll smile about this because of your successes. Own your own real estate. And by that I mean, you must own your name online.

Jason Hartman: Your own domain name, right.

Steven Wyer: You go to GoDaddy, and you buy your name. You don’t buy just .com, you buy .net, .org, .com, .biz. you buy them. It’s going to cost you $50 a year. It’s the cheapest insurance in the world and the example I give folks all the time is I have two daughters. And when they were little girls, I bought their names. My one daughter is 16 years old and all we need is a bad dating relationship with a 17 year old fella and he can go out and ruin and destroy her reputation. And we’ve gone so far that we even give URLs, we give website addresses as baby gifts when a baby’s born.

Jason Hartman: That’s a great idea.

Steven Wyer: We will buy the baby’s name as a .com and that’s their gift. Because you know what it’s like, and you’ll see this information in the book. But the analogy is, I’m old enough to remember when 800 numbers started. And the 800 numbers worked with the gold standard. Well now in our generation here, the gold standard is the .com. you can have .net but you’d much rather have .com. Once somebody buys your name, you’ll never get it back. So you’ve got to buy your URLs, you need to go out to those social sites we mentioned. Social sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and you need to secure your name. Open up an account. You don’t have to be active in it, but secure your name. You need to go to WordPress and you need to go to Blogger and you need to secure your name. That’s a good place to start.

And the second thing, the final thing is get involved in a dialogue. If you’re going to represent yourself, represent yourself well. LinkedIn is a fine social site. It’s a great professional business site. You can get up an account, put up a resume and make sure that it’s accurate and technically correct. In retail business, businesses are continually surprised by the inaccuracy of the information that’s out there, because the initial information pulled for small business is being pulled for public records. And so it makes its way to the internet and Google will have wrong addresses, wrong phone numbers, wrong zip codes, so validate the information of your small business and make sure that what you put out there is accurate. And the final thing I’ll say is, and I always recommend this, have multiple Email accounts and when you sign up for these social sites, put an Email account on there that is perhaps not your main Email account. So that you build a firewall around yourself. Think of it as having a public persona and a private persona and the internet should always be your public persona. Because if you’re not careful, you can absolutely be slandered. I lived it firsthand. I experienced it. It’s how I got into this business and if it can happen to me, it can happen to you.

Jason Hartman: Very good advice. This is a whole other area of protection that people need to pay attention to. Steven Wyer, one of your websites is ReputationAdvocate.com, ViolatedOnline.com as well. Thank you for joining us today and it’s good to hear about this. It’s a little scary. I hope the listeners don’t become totally paranoid that they’re searching their name all the time, but certainly something people need to be aware of. And maybe I just have one more piece of advice. Be especially careful nowadays, just to be a good person. This is not a sure way, you know everybody’s bound to face a competitor or a jealous person or someone that they just don’t get along with or someone that they have a disagreement or dispute with, but as much as possible, just try to do the right thing. Take the high road. And hopefully, and it’s only a hope, you’ll lessen the likelihood of running into problems like this. So I think maybe that’s another part of it that’s outside of the technical that you so much discussed and the online and specific, but just kind of a general living thought too. Steven, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Steven Wyer: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Narrator: Thank you for joining us today for the Holistic Survival Show. Protecting the people, places and profits you care about in uncertain times. Be sure to listen to our Creating Wealth Show, which focuses on exploiting the financial and wealth creation opportunities in today’s economy. Learn more at www.JasonHartman.com or search “Jason Hartman” on iTunes.

This show is produced by the Hartman Media Company, offering very general guidelines and information. Opinions of guests are their own, and none of the content should be considered individual advice. If you require personalized advice, please consult an appropriate professional. Information deemed reliable, but not guaranteed. (Image: Flickr | mdanys)

Transcribed by Ralph

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