For all the attention that fake news, mistaken identity and bad reviews attract, a more common issue for many people are lawsuits they or their organizations are involved in. Legal notices always rank highly on the Internet. They can dominate search results for years, blemishing an otherwise stellar online profile. Now law firms publish information about such “news” on their sites, even when they have no involvement in a case. That, too, can appear on the first page of a Google search in your name. When legal blogs also republish the information, it saturates your Google results. None of it is easy to displace.
In 2015, we blogged about Jodi Kantor’s New York Times article, “Lawsuits’ Lurid Details Draw and Online Crowd.” She observed how the details of certain lawsuits—especially lawsuits pertaining to sexual harassment—are gaining large online audiences. The parties involved in those lawsuits saw their online images dominated by those details.
University of Maryland law professor Leigh Goodmark foresees “a future in which virtually no legal document — an eviction notice, a divorce pleading with embarrassing details — would be safe from public consumption.”
Effective online reputation management, and building a strong online presence, is the best way to protect yourself from the damage those documents could cause. That’s because when you do not own and manage your own message online, you have no defense against such content, however frivolous or unmerited it is.