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CAUGHT in the web

A little thinking goes a long way to ensure reputations don't get destroyed on the Internet

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Once again, we've recently has an exceptionally good example of the speed and power of the Internet. After all, it just took one touch of a button and happy Prince Harry's bare butt flew across the world. However, while he may stand red-faced in front of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, I doubt his self-inflicted wound will cause him to be disowned by his family or even demoted from his job.

On the other hand, Lori Douglas, a local Queen's Bench judge whose private life has graced the newspapers as well as the Internet for the past year, might well lose her job even when her wound was not self-inflicted.

I don't know if it's the heat of the summer or not but there seems to have been a flood of similar public relations nightmares involving a number of high-profile individuals lately.

Even the noted cyclist Lance Armstrong has not been immune. Not only that, now that he's being slapped with a lifetime ban from competitive cycling and has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, we're sure to be inundated with further news as pundits busily lay bets on the longevity of Armstrong's charity foundation.


Then again, ask Missouri Republican House of Representatives candidate Todd Akin how he feels about all the negative publicity he's been receiving since he added his not-so-wise words on the issue of rape. There's been such a backlash about his comments that he's been asked to step down. Stupid man; he has refused and by not doing so, the negative public relations will continue to demolish his campaign. In the end, his reputation will be so tarnished no one would do so much as invite him out for coffee.

Our local scene also once again provides us with similar fodder for thought. Who would have dreamed that a candidate who is facing charges on sexual exploitation of children would have the nerve to run for public office? I am sure he's finding out just how quickly bad news can spread. No wonder the Conservative party leader wants to keep his home co-ordinates private. Good luck!

At the same time, all of these public relations fiascos have brought attention to several different serious social issues such as privacy, freedom of speech and the nature of candidacy qualifications under our provincial elections act. While lawyers and legislators will be busy sorting these issues out for some time to come, the sad reality is that public relations fiascos do indeed impact our view of people.

As you can see in these instances, people who were once considered heroes and champions and/or recognized as the cream of the crop among business or sports leaders can today literally fall from grace overnight. All at the push of a button; thanks to the Internet and instant news! Not only that, the news cannot be erased and will haunt these people forever.

A lawyer friend of mine once told me that the letter "e" in the word email stands for "evidence" and I believe it's the same situation with the Internet. In other words, whatever photos or comments a person places on their social media sites can literally become evidence. Not only that, this so-called evidence might not even be real, as someone can take your photo and simply place it elsewhere, even on another person's body. And, I'm sure you wouldn't appreciate seeing your face on the body of naked Prince Harry. There is already one "doctored" photo being circulated on the Internet that takes poor prince Harry's photo to the next level.

If you think about it, the Internet is not only fast, it is an "open book" that's difficult to close. So, what does this sort of "open book" society mean for students, parents, politicians, employers and career seekers?

It means the old adage that any press is good press is no longer valid in today's world. In fact, as shown in my earlier examples, the Internet can literally crush someone's career, whether it be in sports, politics or just a good, old down-home opportunity. And let's face it, most people have neither the skills nor the funds to engage in full damage control should they be confronted by the public relations fiasco caused by their own self-inflicted wounds. So, what's the solution?

The following suggestions are by no means complete but they will at least help you develop strategies to "think before you act" and thus save your credibility:

-- Reflect on your personal values and confirm what you will and will not do. Clearly develop a line in the sand and stick to it no matter what the temptations or what your friends are doing. Be consistent in applying your values so that people can gain trust in how you would manage a situation.

-- Make your decisions with consideration of an imaginary figure sitting on your shoulder. If this was your mother, what would she say about your behaviour? If this was your child, what legacy would they want to remember you by? If this was your spouse/partner, what would they think?

-- Think beyond yourself and reach out to touch the public eye; how could your behaviour be perceived by others? What damage could this cause? Would it be detrimental to your career? Your family? Yourself?

-- Edit your online social-media photos and content rigorously; contact anyone who has placed a photo of you on their website without permission and confirm or deny your authorization.

-- Be extra-careful of what you say in emails, on Twitter and on your social-media pages. This too, can be taken out of context, forwarded to others and misused.

-- Be scrupulously honest and truthful in everything you do.

While I've certainly enjoyed the power of the Internet to help build my personal and professional profile, I've also personally experienced at least one situation which could have turned ugly and hurt my reputation. In this case, someone in the U.S. took one of my Canadian articles, changed it very slightly and submitted it to an online magazine as an example of their own work. Then, when I submitted an article to the same magazine, I was accused of plagiarism and "blacklisted" from submitting further articles.

Believe me, it took several letters, complaints and submission of my original article to prove the "other guy" was at fault. As you can expect, his reputation was sullied pretty quickly and his career as a writer simply evaporated before his eyes.

My advice? Be vigilant. In other words, be careful with what you say and what you do both privately and publicly and be sure to keep an eye on what happens to your Internet content.


Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP is president of Legacy Bowes Group, a talent management firm. She can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 1, 2012 H1

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