Employment & Labour

Tips for managing your online reputation

By AdvocateDaily.com Staff

Negative comments or social media posts can have a significant impact on a person’s career path, and understanding how to protect yourself is critical, Toronto employment lawyer Amelia Phillips tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“We’re starting to see how important the online space is for people’s reputations and their livelihoods,” says Phillips, an associate with MacDonald & Associates.

“Outside of your resume and, perhaps, references, employers do not usually know anything about you. Search engines are where they can get a first impression of you,” she says. “It can be extremely damaging when another person posts comments about you or your business online that are untrue or defamatory. And often, it’s very difficult to correct.”

Phillips points out that online reputation has become such a concern that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada addressed it in a paper earlier this year.

Companies that deal with this issue head-on have also sprouted up, she says, noting they vet what’s out there, perform a diagnosis of the problem and suggest a course of action to address it.

“I’ve had conversations with folks who have had something posted about them when they were in their early 20s, and it’s still online when their names are searched decades later. At this point, they’re professionals in their 40s and have accomplished so much, but that stain is still there. I’ve had a client that wanted to change their name entirely because of it,” Phillips says.

“Online presence is probably the No. 1 flag-bearer of your reputation,” she says.

Phillips, who has blogged on the issue, says it can be worthwhile to address one’s negative online personal presence.

The first step is to contact the poster and ask them to remove the offending post or comments, but that could be a challenge if they refuse, she says.

The next approach is to appeal to the platform where the comment is posted and if you're unsuccessful there, speak to the website-hosting company, Phillips says.

“It gets more difficult as you go along, so you have to try to remedy the situation using the first two courses of action,” she says.

If those steps fail, people must then petition the search-engine provider, Phillips says, adding that because Google is by far the most used search engine in North America, there’s some responsibility for it to provide accurate information.

The company has a mechanism for filing complaints and requests to delete certain search results, and she says it regularly delists items from searches, but only on the company’s terms.

Phillips says the challenge is when the search engine company doesn’t regard the information as worthy of removal.

At that point, she says, litigation (for example, an injunction for forced removal of the material) may be an option, but it’s a challenging and expensive route. It may be worth it, however, if defamatory postings are preventing you from finding work or sustaining your business, Phillips says.

“It’s an important issue for people in the employment context that their online presence is professional and one that their company can be proud of,” she says.

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