Carolyn Hax: Reclaiming one’s online reputation without seeming like a jerk
By Carolyn Hax,
I work in D.C. in a field where discretion is important and I’m a single guy on the D.C. dating scene, both of which mean I get Googled often. I just discovered that my most recent ex-girlfriend, who was a functioning alcoholic, had eating disorders and had previously spent time in a mental institution, libeled me online under an anonymous profile, calling me emotionally abusive and manipulative. She did this in the middle of our brief relationship — which I ended — never told me about it, and when I called asking her to take it down I was threatened with a lawsuit for harassment. (She’s a lawyer.)
Her link is on the first page of my Google results and though I created multiple new personal sites to knock it down, it stubbornly stays up there. Her vile comments are untrue and likely composed in a drunken rage, but you can’t remove things from the Internet. I’ve already been asked about them by a potential date.
What do I tell a girl or friends or future employers when they find this information? I want to explain how literally crazy the accuser is without seeming like an idiot who dated a spiteful alcoholic and mental patient. Please help me deal with this.
Or the idiot who counter-slams someone who is suffering from serious emotional problems?
Just for grins, talk to a lawyer of your own about this. It may amount to spending hundreds of dollars to confirm there’s nothing you can do, but that’s still better than skittering uninformedly away at the first hint of a threat. People who make such threats count on that.
Also, redouble your efforts to push the bad news down into search-result oblivion. Enlist friends, read up on reputation-scrubbing tactics, get your name out there.
The most important thing you can do, whatever the outcome of the legal consultation and the name-polishing: Live in a way that exposes her accusations as gratuitous and spiteful. Don’t call anyone “crazy.” Don’t call yourself an idiot for caring about her. Don’t be so consumed by damage control that you call attention to the damage.
And, don’t fall into the classic “evil ex” trap — as in, describe the ex with such free-flowing vitriol that you force people to ask themselves how you’ll someday talk about them.
For example: “Thanks for asking — I expect a lot of people just to judge me without getting the other side. An ex-girlfriend of mine wrote that. She’s volatile but we liked each other, and I didn’t see her attack coming. I don’t think her criticism is fair, but there’s not much I can do about it, except hope you’ll give me a chance and make up your own mind.”
Note the part that goes unspoken: that anyone who would post a vicious, anonymous, online attack is automatically under a cloud of suspicion, arguably darker than the one she placed over you. You already have that advantage; don’t squander it by striking back at her.