Most of the online reputation repair clients I work with are remorseful. At some point in their lives they’ve screwed up and now Google won’t let them, or anyone else for that matter, forget the incident. Despite the isolated incident, and many subsequent years of good behavior, their past reputation slip has left a nasty scar on an otherwise clean history.
Then, there are people like Joshua Lipton.
Lipton was charged with drunken driving after crashing into, and seriously injuring, a woman. It should have been the lowest point in the 20-year-old college junior’s life. He should have withdrawn, sought out psychological help, and convinced the judge–and the world–that this was an isolated incident and totally out of character.
Instead, Lipton did this:
Two weeks after Joshua Lipton was charged…[Lipton] attended a Halloween party dressed as a prisoner. Pictures from the party showed him in a black-and-white striped shirt and an orange jumpsuit labeled “Jail Bird.”
The pictures made it to Facebook, which then made it into the hands of the prosecutor, who used them to convince the judge that Lipton was unrepentant and a habitual drinker. The judge agreed and handed down a two-year prison sentence.
This is not an isolated incident either:
Perlin said he was willing to recommend probation for Lara Buys for a 2006 drunken driving crash that killed her passenger — until he thought to check her MySpace page while preparing for sentencing.
The page featured photos of Buys — taken after the crash but before sentencing — holding a glass of wine as well as joking comments about drinking. Perlin used the photos to argue for a jail sentence instead of probation, and Buys, then 22, got two years in prison.
“Pending sentencing, you should be going to (Alcoholics Anonymous), you should be in therapy, you should be in a program to learn to deal with drinking and driving,” Perlin said. “She was doing nothing other than having a good old time.”
Here’s the moral of the story. The internet does not come with a “click here for explanation” button. What you see, is what you get–especially when it comes to your reputation. The defendants in these two incidents may well have a remorseful character–the photos don’t tell you if each had spent the previous two weeks crying in a darkened room–but they presented a reputation of being out-of-control youths, that would likely become repeat offenders.
In life we say that “perception is reality.” The same is true with the internet, but perhaps can be modified to “perception is reputation.”
(thanks to Andrew Miller, who also spotted this story)