Reputation management


The above image was posted onto Facebook by someone called Richard Kirby who lives near Farnborough and who doesn’t know me and who has never met me. What he has done is typical of the internet and I am in very good company, you don’t have to look far to find Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa of Calcutta also being vilified. It is now a fact of life that once your name is known much outside your circle of friends and family people will attack you on the internet, usually from a position of anonymity. It goes with the territory.

And it is not just individual people who are attacked in this way. Organisations like soccer clubs attract a constant tirade of the worst possible abuse. And, of course, so does your company and the products that it creates. You cannot escape it. In our industry the three platform holders, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo attract an astonishing amount of  vicious abuse. And in the democracy of the internet the voice of the abuser has the same weight as the voice of the reasonable person.

So what can you do to protect your reputation? There seem to be three courses of action. The first is to litigate against your tormentors. For instance in posting the image above Richard Kirby has committed the civil offence of libel for which I could sue him. And I would win. However it really is not worth the time and the trouble, the damages awarded would be trifling and the number of people pouring out abuse on the internet  is so great as to make litigating against all of them impossible.

The second is to generate, or have generated for you, a body of “good” content that outweighs the bad. There are actually a lot of mechanisms for this. Social networking sites like Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, Bebo and MySpace. Social bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon, Digg and Reddit. Knowledge repositories like Wikipedia and Knol. Blogs and forums. Reputation management sites like Naymz and Lookup Page. And even the act of issuing press releases which get C&Ped all over the internet. A lot of this is what community marketing is about these days.

The third option is to rely upon the intelligence and judgement of internet users. They are used to seeing all this abuse and so have learned to give it little or no credence. People quickly develop filters which allow them to get what they want out of the internet whilst ignoring the rubbish. So your tormentors are pretty much wasting their time.

We live in an age where the reality of the matter is that internet abuse is ubiquitous. It is an inevitability that comes just from being well known. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, there is only one thing worse than being vilified on the internet and that is not being vilified on the internet.


  1. It looks like this person might be trying to “make a joke”.

    I’ve heard about such things. They’re for humour purposes, or something.

    Someone once found a picture of me on the internet and drew some silly hair on it. I didn’t sue them for the civil offence of libel.

    But then, I have a sense of humour.

  2. Damien,
    You have a strange sense of humour when you think it is OK to make such accusations. Perhaps if they were made at you then you wouldn’t find them to be so funny.
    And I haven’t sued anyone for libel or even threatened to, if anyone says that then they are a liar.

  3. I’m not 100% sure it’s libel …it just says they are lookalikes and doesn’t say anything else. Can you do a libel case because you don’t look like Michael Jackson?

    But it’s not really on, is it? I often don’t agree with you but that doesn’t make you a target.

  4. Actually you probably wouldn’t win a libel case: all that is being claimed in that image is that you *look* like those people, not that you *are* like those people. Being told that you look like someone isn’t defamatory.

    This explains it fairly succinctly:

  5. Well I think it’s disgusting that this Richard Kirby feels he can just post whatever he likes about people on the internet.

    How would he like it?

  6. I have to say, you got me, Bruce! And I suspect I’m not the only one!

    I have to admit I was thoroughly puzzled by your post today. I thought, Bruce is pretty net-savvy. He surely knows that this application has no malicious or mocking intent. But such over the top language, comparing himself to Mother Theresa, yet!

    And just to prove it, I wandered over to the website to make up my own celebrity photo match. And it was as I was sitting there typing in my registration, that the penny dropped.

    So admit it – the goal was to demonstrate some non-traditional marketing to us. I bet I’m not the only one who fell for your faux-rage and then wound up heading right over to the celebrity look-alike site.

    Good one, Bruce, good one.

  7. A pretty hurtful image if read a certain way though its not libel unless Bruce could prove the creator meant it to be seen in the same way Bruce does. That said a little more editorial responsibility and self reflection may have avoided this. That’s not to say Bruce deserved this but I couldn’t possibly discuss it further for fear of litigation, ho hum

  8. @BC and @Hugo, it is clearly defamatory to associate Bruce with a host of unsavoury characters, all of which could be said to share a common thread — it is to do with implication and innuendo.

    And, while Bruce is being generous about it, Mr Townsend might not be so happy.

  9. So, hold on.

    Someone posts an image showing how much Bruce looks like people who have (or may have, in some cases) committed crimes. Not, you might notice, “how much Bruce ACTS LIKE xxx”, but how much Bruce LOOKS LIKE them. Last I heard, that wasn’t anywhere near libelous.

    Bruce responds by posting this person’s name and enough information for them to be found, in real life. Why? What possible purpose does this serve? does Bruce believe that he has “fans” who will go round and “sort him out”? Post dogshit through his letterbox for the heinous crime of “taking the piss out of Bruce a bit”? Maybe someone could go round and take a photo of this person, and then do a “how much he looks like famous libellers” mashup, but I’m a bit stumped as to who those famous libellers might actually be.

    And yes, Bruce, you *do* look like Jonathan King. And quite a bit like Paul Gadd, for that matter. That’s pretty tough, maybe you should sue your parents for having passed on pedo-lookalike genes to you.

  10. Bruce – come on, son, I think you’re starting to lose it.

    That’s clearly not libel, and you know full well that if you saw someone else blogging comparisons between themselves and Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, even in jest, you’d conclude they were a loon. You’re not doing yourself any favours here.

  11. Firstly for the legal experts who have commented above here is a primer on UK libel law:
    “In the UK, if someone thinks that what you wrote about them is either defamatory or damaging, the onus will be entirely on you to prove that your comments are true in court. In other words, if you make the claim, you’ve got to prove it! ” I asked a newspaper sub-editor about the offending picture and he was of the opinion that it was defamatory under UK law.

    Secondly I did not compare myself to Nelson Mandela or Mother Theresa. I just used them to demonstrate that everyone in the public eye, no matter how high their esteem, gets attacked on the internet.

    Harley Davidson, saying that you think that I am starting to lose it is exactly the sort of personal attack this article is about. You make my point for me.

    And MC is right. Pete Townsend may not be as charitable as me at being associated with such unsavoury characters. He has good grounds for an action for defamation here.

  12. Utter nonsense Bruce. Saying someone looks like someone else is not libel. Someone saying you look like Jonathan King is no more libelling you than they are libelling Mr King.

    I’ve been a long-time reader of your blog and enjoy it greatly, but you do sometimes have a tendency to make statements _which_can_be_interpreted_ in such a way as to make you come across less ‘freedom fighter’ and more ‘silly man’. For someone who (rightly) criticises, for example, Sony’s more outlandish PR bloopers, I think you need sometimes to step back and have a think about how what you post will be interpreted by the wider world. Not a personal attack, just friendly advice.

    You’re a smart guy and write a generally great blog. If you put your head above the parapet like this some people will take pot shots… you are best advised to ignore it and move on. Getting defensive on here when people upset you hugely detracts from the credibility of your blog generally, and steers you from ‘serious analyst’ territory towards that of David Iyke. I don’t see Paxman writing a blog rebuffing all those nasty people who are unkind to him. You really don’t want to become a laughing stock on the internet, because there’s no way back from that.

  13. Harley, it is not the “looks like” that is the defamation. It is the grouping, the association.

    And you are getting away from what I was trying to say and that is that there are three ways to react to inevitable online defamation of your company and its products. The whole Richard Kirby thing is just window dressing to make it more interesting.

  14. Bruce You’ve got to admit you do look like Jonathan King, and Pete Townsend is in good company.

  15. came across your blog just very recent and found it interesting. But it’s sad to see how you contradict yourself.

    While you embrace the powers of social networking for your commercial exploitation you seem to lack the deeper knowledge about what actually drives them.

    Now when someone actually uses just one of the many apps that exist in this web 2.0 world to create something most likely intended to have a laugh you run to the teacher and shout faul play.

    Even contemplating a law suite is best proof how disconnected you are.

    So cheer up and see the bright side. Someone actually took the time to take your picture and run in trough a celebrity look alike o meter. One step up from simply tagging your name in a “stupid smiley” picture and a step below in creating a nice photoshop.

    Only thing gained by this blog post was to actually alienate yourself from a big group of readers, many of whom might actually be active social network users, the target of your profession.

    @3d mark:
    Clevery analysed the plot. Wish Bruce would give in and reveal his plot in the comments. So far he sticks to the “victim of the internet” character.

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