Image courtesy: Bank Phrom

The Timeline of Repair

We often get asked how long it will take to improve a personal online reputation and our response is that much depends on the cause of the damage; or rather more specifically, the backdrop to their current predicament and where stories and allegations appear and for how long the story has been published online. Let’s look at the significance of each of these in turn to seek to provide some guidance on how long a client can expect an engagement to take.

 

What Caused the Reputational Damage?

There are a whole range of reasons for a client to find their online reputation under attack. The following could all be reported in the press and appear in online news:

  • Claims of negligence that might lead to a hearing at a professional council, such as causing injury or death to a patient;
  • Allegations of impropriety or criminal activity, such as bullying or sexual harassment through to fraud and theft; 
  • Whistleblowing by current staff or disgruntled former employees that might lead online campaigns to force the removal of a chief executive.

At Balanced Media we can only support those individuals who have found allegations to be unfounded whether at a professional council or in court. If, indeed, allegations are proven false then a submission can be made to Google for a ‘Right to be forgotten’ request. After the careful preparation of evidence and possibly taking legal advice (one month), this process can take a further 6-8 weeks (possibly longer during Covid) to receive a response and or provide additional evidence. So this could all take about three months in total.

 

Where do the allegations appear?

There are many channels through through which allegations appear online:

  • News outlets (local, national or international); 
  • Social media where news links and opinion on these, whether true or unfounded, can very quickly be shared; 
  • Blogs written by motivated actors for the sole reason of seeking to act as a focal campaign tool to write about allegations so these are prominent when an individual’s name is searched for online

For news outlets a direct request can be made for removal of ‘old news’ that reported the original allegations, which have since been found to be unfounded. In our experience, new outlets are often reluctant and sometimes appear completely indifferent to the changed facts – claiming that the allegations were relevant and in the public interest; and their continued existence online remains relevant. This exchange between the news outlets (of which there can be several) tends to take 4-8 weeks.

Social media is very much more problematic as the respective social media channels have their own policies around the removal of content from their platforms; to the extent that on numerous occasions these platforms refuse to remove even extremist content. Still, the ‘viral’ nature of shared content makes it almost impossible to remove all remnants of s series of tweets, retweets. Nevertheless an attempt can be made to the social media companies to remove content on an evidence-basis again taking 4-6 weeks.

Blogs used as a campaign platform are often written anonymously. It can be difficult therefore to identify who the blog operator or authors are. In this case a letter from media lawyers to ‘Persons unknown’ can be submitted to the hosting service of the blogs for a ‘take-down’ request. The blog operator may be reached in this way and can decide whether they want to accede to the request. This process can take 2-3 weeks just to reach the operator via the host.

 

How long have the allegations been in the public domain?

The length of time between the allegation first appearing and when an attempt is made to remove it can have a significant impact on the time required to remove such allegations. When allegations have been very quickly found to be untrue then an immediate attempt should be made to request that the various outlets where the original news appears. Again as above this could take 4-6 weeks.

What is very much more problematic is where news links relating to negative news stories have been left for months or years before an attempt is made to seek to have a form such as Balanced Media attempt to reduce the visibility of such links. The reason such a situation is more complex is that as the links are left unchallenged they can gain an ‘aged’ authority. Depending on the number of links and which outlets published them, to reduce the visibility of such links to page 2 and beyond of Google search can take 4-6 months at a minimum for UK-based news. This timeline can be even longer – perhaps 12 months – for more complex cases relating to news published internationally.

 

Final Thoughts

Generally, our campaigns to seek to restore or enhance our clients’ personal online reputation can take 2-3 months where we are requesting that outlets remove relatively new, proven unfounded content. At Balanced Media we have found that where allegations are more serious and the content is more longstanding and of a complex nature then it can take approximately 4-6 months for UK-based cases and 12 months for international cases. Regrettably, in the meantime, clients can continue to experience serious harm to their reputations, whilst a concerted effort is being made to restore it.

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