We’ve seen the impact of mob mentality on social media frequently across the major networks. There must be justice — or at least the appearance of justice — and the hounding of the mob can cost people their jobs and their reputations for life. Author Jon Ronson followed one internet-shamed user through the process of rebuilding a reputation online.
Lindsey Stone, a caregiver with LIFE (Living Independently Forever), posted pictures to her social pages wherein she disobeyed signs. One such picture, of Stone at Arlington National Cemetery mocking a sign that read “Silence and Respect,” went viral a month after it was posted.
Shortly thereafter, she lost her job, and barely left the house for a year afterwards. At the time of her first interview with Ronson, she lived in fear that she would be discovered in her new job, and would lose that one too.
Ronson connected Stone with Reputation.com, a service that works to clean up users’ reputation online, primarily by gaming Google’s algorithms to emphasize positive content, and to minimize negative content.
She worked with Farukh Rashid, a company representative, to create new Tumblr, Linkedin, YouTube, and WordPress accounts to crowd out the ‘silence and respect’ photograph. These accounts were chosen primarily because these accounts have a built-in high PageRank, and are reputable sites as far as Google is concerned.
Ronson noted the key to the whole process: “We were creating a world where the smartest way to survive is to be bland.” Once the algorithm was confused, i.e. showing the new information and the old ‘silence and respect’ picture, content is flooded onto the new social pages.
Ronson called the practice “the shock and awe of these pleasant banalities.” In an interview four months later, the process seemed to have largely succeeded.
As users offer up more of themselves to social media sites, through updates, they begin to ask if the return is worth the effort. This introspection encourages growing levels of self-censorship, out of fear of group retaliation.
The drawback of this careful cultivation of their online reputations, users may be posting less to social sites. European users can even have factual information about themselves removed from the Google index. The end result is an internet less about free expression, and more about keeping up bland appearances.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.