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Cyberbullying’s Impact on Online Reputation

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For business owners and even individuals, building a brand online offers significant benefits when it comes to reaching the right audience and developing a trusted reputation. However, the benefits that come with online exposure also come with a downside. The more they’re exposed to the public eye, the more vulnerable they become to threats that only exist on the internet—including cyberbullying.

There is a common misconception that cyberbullying is strictly carried out by teenagers on the internet. The truth is, cyberbullying tactics are used by people of all ages with their own specific motives. With the rise of social media, trolls and bullies are nearly impossible to avoid, and the fact that no one seems to have a right to privacy anymore only compounds the issue.

Cyberbullying has evolved past petty insults to a point where victims routinely get “doxxed,” a term that refers to digging up private information and publishing it online for all to see. This all falls under freedom of speech, which the internet celebrates, even though it means private details about a person’s life can remain on the web forever.

To make matters worse, social media and internet giants have nothing in place to monitor or mitigate cyberbullying, leaving everyone open to reputation damaging attacks. Due to the way search engines index web pages, content published with intent to cause harm can be found by anyone, and the effects of cyberbullying can follow victims around for years.

While it may be tempting to brush off cyberbullying as inconsequential and juvenile, the truth is that what happens online can have a devastating impact on real lives and businesses.

What is Cyberbullying?

Any type of bullying that happens online qualifies as cyberbullying. It involves harming, harassing, threatening, and humiliating a person or brand. Bullies carry out their attacks through social networks, messaging apps, chat rooms, email, and website postings.

Cyberbullying can manifest either directly online or as a continuation of bullying that has taken place in the physical world. Regardless of how it starts, cyberbullying continues to become increasingly commonplace.

People who have never experienced cyberbullying may believe it only occurs between kids on social media, but it happens everywhere among all age groups. In many cases, cyberbullying doesn’t just hurt the person targeted, it can harm their families, friends, and associates as well.

Beyond saying hurtful things online, types of cyberbullying include spreading false rumors, posting humiliating photos or videos, and creating fake profiles and websites that can cause distress to the victim. Less common types of cyberbullying that cause just as much harm include photo montages and viral memes. Because of how quickly these particular attacks can spread online, they can cause immense damage.

The 24/7 nature of the internet makes it possible to inflict attacks any time, anywhere, and on any platform. While the internet and social media provide a platform for free speech, they can also become amplifiers for slander, defamatory content, and hate speech.

Outside of social media, the way search engines index and rank content almost guarantees cyberbullying will have a long lasting impact on the lives of people targeted by it.

Attackers can drag someone’s name through the mud more effectively today than ever before. Unfortunately for the victims, undoing the damage caused by cyberbullying grows more challenging every day.

The Right to Privacy

In today’s age, individuals have few to no rights to privacy online. Any information, or private details about someone’s life can go viral if that knowledge becomes known by the wrong people.

For a famous example of this, see the public outing of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel back in 2007. The now-defunct publication Gawker published a piece that outed Thiel as gay, which was private information that he never revealed on his own.

Gawker’s article was a calculated attempt at bullying Thiel into sharing his orientation with the world, which should have been his decision to make. There was no way of stopping that article from getting published, and the fact that people still talk about it further proves the longevity of cyberbullying.

Gawker was a publication built on cyberbullying, which ultimately led to its undoing. The company was sued in 2013 after leaking a sex tape featuring Hulk Hogan. Likely motivated by his own experience, Thiel bankrolled the lawsuit and provided the resources needed to win. In the end, the court ordered Gawker to pay Hogan hundreds of millions in damages.

This whole story has been chronicled in a documentary on Netflix called Nobody Speak: The Trials of the Free Press.

Following the court’s ruling, Gawker was forced to shut down and file for bankruptcy. Does that mean the publication got its comeuppance?

Not exactly…

Do People Have the Right to Be Forgotten?

Peter Thiel’s outing by Gawker will live on in the pages of the internet forever. Thiel may have had a hand in bankrupting the publication, but the Gawker story won’t get forgotten any time soon.

The internet is allowing the Gawker incident to remain part of Thiel’s legacy. Content about the story continues to rank high in Google’s search results, and his Wikipedia page mentions it in the first paragraph.

Cyberbullying tactics can haunt the targets of attacks for a considerably long time, as no one has the right to be forgotten online. Once a slanderous story or social media post goes viral, or gets picked up by high profile publications, it won’t disappear by itself.

The same goes for any small business owner or public-facing individual. You don’t have to be as famous as Hulk Hogan to be targeted by someone with a platform. Stories like these happen everyday, to average people, causing distress not only at the time it occurs, but following the person for the rest of their lives.

The Internet Doesn’t Forget

Thanks to the nature of social media and the internet at large, we’re losing control of any right to privacy. Inflicting lasting damage to someone’s reputation is as easy as sending a Tweet, making both public figures and regular individuals just as vulnerable to cyberbullying attacks.

While Gawker had a platform, which made it easy to attack people like Thiel, the internet gives everyone that same access to a wide audience. Nothing can stop someone from starting a website tomorrow, publishing rumors or private information, and using basic search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to rank it in Google.

Similarly, anyone with knowledge of how information spreads on the internet can coordinate a cyberbullying campaign on social media. Whether it happens through social media or traditional website postings, the lasting impact of the attacks doesn’t change.

The internet never forgets, and tech giants have done nothing to alleviate or mitigate the effects cyberbullying has on victims. If anything, the problem continues to get worse.

However, there is a silver lining.

When people conduct a Google search for Peter Thiel, the Gawker story will surely show up, but search results will also show Thiel continues to thrive in the business world.

His public outing will stay with him forever, but it didn’t end his career. Thiel remains a powerful and influential businessman due to the strength of his reputation.

In addition to demonstrating the effects of cyberbullying, the Gawker versus Thiel saga acts as a case study in reputation management. By building a bully-proof brand, people and businesses can withstand the most devastating attacks.

Cyberbullying has a devastating impact, but the strength of a trusted brand can help businesses weather the storm.

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