Reputation Control

by founditonapostednote


           There are a few reasons why I think reputation control is important.   To begin, I believe there are four sets of people that are key to how we craft our reputation[1]

1) Interested Parties (IPs): People we know, and we care about what they think— family, friends, those who can influence our reputation;

 2) Associates: People we know, but we don’t care about what they think—people we may have dirt on, unpopular individuals;

3) Unknowns: People we don’t know or those who cannot really harm our reputation— celebrities, political figures, strangers on planes;

4) Potentials: People we don’t know, but might someday know; thus, we care about what they think— employers, future kids. 

     To a certain degree, reputation becomes customized to coincide with each of the abovementioned categories.  My explanation of how people are affected by these sets lies in a real-life story, circa the George W. Bush Administration.  At some point during that period, there was talk about implementing warrantless-telephone surveillance.  Much like a lot of other George-Bush-related topics, my friends and I would joke about it.  So whenever a static-like sound disturbance would patch in through our phones we would immediately respond, “George W.? Is that you?”  And we would proceed with our conversation, with no hesitation, as if we didn’t care.  And we didn’t.  She and I didn’t care if George, Dick, or “Condi” were all in their oversized-comfy arm chairs, latte in hand—having a good laugh listening in on a conversation about the trifling ways of a boy in my best friend’s 1L class.  A boy we referred to as “Sleaze.”  Now if “Sleaze” somehow had a way of listening in, this is when our concerns would heighten.  But then again, we used code names so our bases were covered. Now I will segue for a moment to touch on the topic of code names.

      Code names serve a dual purpose: 1) they conceal the identity of a person we are talking about, and 2) they keep those who might overhear the conversation from conveying the information to that person being discussed.  Code names allow us to discourse about people[2] when we are around affiliates of that person.  So in my case, these are people who serve as arteries for information that could get back to “Sleaze.”  Essentially, we did not want people to know that we talked about this specific person.  In a small, yet significant way, using “Sleaze” as code was a mechanism that allowed us to control our reputation.  Specifically, we did not want a group of people (law students) to judge or label us for what we said about this particular guy.  Mainly because we did not want anyone to know we cared about him.  If, however, “Sleaze” was not affiliated with the school, we would not need to use the code-name tactic. This is because a law-school hallway would not be a proper venue for a non-law-school boy’s name, and any information passed between me and my friend would most likely not get back to that person.  But because Sleaze belonged to the law-school venue, we would not use his real name; we most definitely had an image—or reputation—to keep as distinguished females who were too focused and tough to care about a stupid, law school boy.   

    Now, transitioning back to the sets of people mentioned earlier, George and the gang fall into “Unknowns” (if I ever crossed over to the Republican Party, this would change to “Potentials”).  Because we did not know them personally we didn’t care if they judged us.  Thus, reputation was not a concern.    

     In contrast to Unknowns are Interested Parties. The people that caused us to come up with a code name are in the IP group.  If they were part of the phone-tap conversation, we would be mortified.  As a throw-back example, IPs came into play when we were in high school and asked our parents if we could  use the phone to ask a friend about homework help, when instead, we just wanted to gossip.  That disguised question, was an attempt to save our reputations in front of our parents. We would want them to think we were doing homework instead of gossiping; this would be to save face, if there was ever a bad grade involved.  That way our parents couldn’t label us as lazy, irresponsible children.  I mean, we did have that “Honors kids’” image to live up to in high school. 

     There isn’t really an “Associate” situation present, but I’ll take it back to the “Sleaze” example for this purpose. If we had been in the hallway around one, lone no-name kid—the “Associate” category would apply.  Here, we would probably use “Sleaze’s” real name.  This is because the information would be useless to the kid who didn’t know anyone; his unpopularity would cause him to never be a threat to us.[3]

     The point of all this is to show that people implement strategies to control their reputations.  This is done by managing sets of information.  We meticulously decide where to place this information, and who we will give access to it.  This practice of discretion allows people to feel comfortable about who they are and what they want to talk about in a specific setting, without having to worry about information-pathways crossing.  With this technique, they do not have to worry about Potentials learning information okay’d for Unknowns.

     Presently, technology acts as a bridge between information gaps.  Social media and other forms of virtual communication have allowed seamless access to an information cornucopia.  As this occurs, it is ineluctable that information will intersect between the aforementioned groups.  This is explained in the message conveyed in “Dog-Poop Girl,” where a siddity girl on a bus in Korea told off an old man when he asked her to clean her dog’s poop.  After someone took her picture (to shame her) and put it on the internet, people thousands of miles away suddenly had an interest in this girl who had a disregard for social norms.  But for the internet, they wouldn’t have known about “Dog-Poop Girl.”  Her reputation, which would have been sullied in only a small sector of Korea, is now tarnished on an international level.  She has no control over whether category 1,2,3 or 4 has access to this information.  You Google her, and all categories can retrieve her story.

      Extracting from dog-poop girl, it is clear that lacking the ability to control reputation has lasting, detrimental affects.  I remember when the Duke-lacrosse-team rape story was big in the news.  Specifically, some people tied in an issue of race.  My best friend and I totally bought into the story.  We were eating right out of Al Sharpton’s hands.   He said everything with so much conviction—we had to believe him.  But the allegations were false.  And we felt pretty stupid, maybe a little cheated.  I think, though, that the worst of it all was that some people didn’t even remember that part of the story—that the allegations were false.  A year later, we would hear discussions about how racism is alive and thriving, and the Duke story was used as an example: that white boys raped a stripper because she was black.  This is how they will always be branded.  If the story is Googled, the individuals involved are revealed.  Their names are forever besmeared with this “Duke-Lacrosse-team rape incident.”           

      My concern with this effect lies in “dog-poop girls” and “Duke-Lacrosse teams” around the world, and their inability to control reputation.   When pictures or information hit the internet, there is a one-sided interpretation.  People feed off of that.  Even though the accused party should have a voice, it is often muted by the cacophony of criticism, gossip, and untruth.  In this formula lies room for error and, well, lies.  Despite the flawed system, people still rely on it as an accurate source to formulate an opinion about someone.  There is something eerie about that, as it is contrary to the principles of justice, which state that one is innocent until proven guilty. As for preponderance of the evidence, the evidence cannot hold weight if it not derived from a credible source—this is also disregarded.  How credible is a picture with no words? 

      My point is that people need to realize that reputation control is something that should be considered as social media and virtual communication become ubiquitous.  People will no longer have authority over the information they own, as others can just as easily access it.  I’m not saying I know what to do; I’m just saying maybe we should at least think about it.  


[1] This model is not E rated (not for Everyone).

[2] I chose “discourse” in lieu of “talk about” not to sound pretentious, but to avoid any stigma attached to that phrase.

[3] I don’t really think this way about anyone.  This is just a hypothetical!