The profile you proudly blast across the Internet today may be one that makes you cringe tomorrow. Perhaps this is more the case as the general use of the Internet grows out of adolescence. You need not quake because for every Web faux pas there is a fee-based solution. DefendMyName claims to “replace negative Internet postings with positive information about you or your business” and to elevate your propaganda above the negative portrayals found through the search engines. Essentially, this service finds relevant social networking sites and adds your profile, and posts your personal image press release on relevant business and industry forums.
ReputationDefender speaks to the fear of the job seeker or parent that there may be some virtual image that needs cleansing. After they find these declarations (much of that, no doubt, created by the subject), reputationdefender sets about contacting “third parties, including creators of unwelcome content, hosts of unwelcome content, and other parties who might have control or authority over such content.” The User Agreement addresses any inclination you may have to engage this service targeting someone other than yourself. Search engine optimization is a more technical phrase for much of what these companies do. Here’s another one.
I guess I can classify my work as reputation research, which I do on behalf of others, not for the purpose of scrubbing an online image but to build a biography of admissions and activities. Researchers and investigators have always done this, but the popularity of the Internet has opened an area of specialized research. Social networking sites, which have been mined by companies for background on potential hires, have also connected people who want to find each other.
Authenticating found material may be difficult due to the anonymous uses of the Internet. Inevitably, people will use this shield to present favorable views of themselves while disguised in a persona. Be warned: Those who “anonymously” say nasty things about others may be uncovered and sued. The ability to alter digital content could have important implications for the dissemination and identification of official government documents and information.
Getting concrete about the work of uncovering reputation for professional uses, the authors of, Finding and Researching Experts and Their Testimony, offer a detailed guide to finding background and verifying credentials of various types of experts. Some of the sources discussed are: use of search engines, expert directories, the expert’s Web site, licensing boards, publications, news, discussion board posts, court dockets and other public records.
An older set of articles on researching people on the Internet is a good introduction.
Various sources for finding background on people are listed at People Finder Guide.