The internet (like automation) is a blessing and a curse. On the curse side, sometimes bad things happen to good people. A financial adviser may be named in a splashy lawsuit and then quietly dropped later when it turns out others were to blame ? but the original story pops up on page 1 of a Google search seemingly forever. In the internet age, this kind of bad luck can destroy one’s business reputation (“Reputations can suffer when dings go online,” by Bruce Kelly, InvestmentNews).
When this happens, victims are advised to contact the webmaster of the site where the information appears rather than a search engine like Google. The webmaster (but not Google) can take down a page or change its content. Google’s search engine then will not pull it up. But Google does not remove content from its search results except in very limited circumstances (such as, the content itself is illegal).
Having a web page removed or scrubbed of certain information does not necessarily solve the problem either. The internet has an archive called the “Wayback Machine” that allows users to search for pages as they existed in the past. It has become apparent to us, however, that the Wayback Machine has also been scrubbed by bad actors seeking to erase the past.
There are also companies that will for a fee take steps to “push down” content in search results, so that it appears on page 50 (perhaps) rather than page 1. The company mentioned in the article is called Reputation.com.
All of this is a two-edged sword. Innocent victims need to be able to remove untrue, defamatory content from the internet, but the public (including investors) needs to be able to investigate those with whom they entrust their money.
According to the article, Reputation.com says it does not offer its services to “individuals with convictions for a variety of crimes, including securities fraud.” However, those who commit securities fraud are only rarely criminally prosecuted (most often it is a civil, not a criminal matter), so only a very few of those who commit securities fraud would be ineligible for Reputation.com’s services under that definition.
It is certainly easier said than done, but society should strive to be judicious and discerning in allowing the internet to be scrubbed by people wanting to protect their reputations.
Page Perry, LLC is an Atlanta-based law firm with over 150 years of collective experience maintaining integrity in the investment markets and protecting investor rights.