ImageThere are a variety of books on the shelves today claiming to help you heal a broken online reputation, and I’ve read most of them. There are only a few I would recommend. Wild West 2.0 by Michael Fertik and David Thompson is one of them.

Most of the reputation recovery books I’ve read have a similar formula for addressing negative online content. First, you deal with the search results, then you populate the internet with good, but authentic content. This book has an extensive formula—it’s the second half of the book.  The authors, who are both lawyers in the field, lay out a very detailed plan that involves initially taking a thorough “reputation audit.”

After the audit is performed, a road map is laid out which includes four basic sections. The first, “roles you play,” requires you to define particular roles that may expose you to a variety of audiences, such as parent, friend, employee, student, online dater, or everyday person. In the context of each role, you’ll next define people who might be looking for information about you, sources they might use, and then search terms they might use. The book winds up with a chapter on how to repair the damage that you find.

Far more interesting to me was the first half of the book. In it, you’ll find out why the analogy of wild west is a fitting one for the internet. The authors build on the premise that “the Internet has grown too fast for social norms and common sense to keep up,” and that “nothing separates the ‘virtual’ and the ‘real’ worlds; an online smear impacts face-to-face interactions just as much as a hushed comment or a passed note.”

The authors define several types of online attacks and categorize them using two components: the content of the attack and the distribution method. The content types can be as elementary as a simple lie, a half-truth, a manipulated photo, or as intense as harassment, hoaxes, or SWATing. Learning the many methods that these attacks are distributed with—social media, Googestuffing, Googlebombing,  E-mobbing, and others—gives you a good understanding heading into the second half of the book.

One of the most disturbing takeaways for me  was something the authors call “The Google Truth.”

In short, your online reputation does not necessarily reflect the truth. Instead, it reflects the “Google Truth.” The Google Truth looks like the authoritative truth, but it is often incomplete, inaccurate, or just plain wrong. It’s what happens when computers try to guess who you are and what you do.

The bottom line: search engines do not rank by truth, they rank by popularity. But the average person has been conditioned to think the two are one. After all, computers don’t make mistakes, right? The authors write, “Part of this mistaken belief comes from a natural trust of computers. The fact that Google’s search engine often returns correct and unbiased results makes it all the more dangerous when Google fails by returning false or misleading statements."  Remember the girl on the State Farm commercial who claimed, “they can't put anything on the internet that isn’t true”?

I recommend getting a copy of this book, especially if your work revolves around the internet at all. If you want to learn more about online privacy and how to counteract misinformation on the internet, this is a good read for you too.