Posted July 21, 2008 9:58 am by with 16 comments

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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 He should have withdrawn, sought out psychological help, and convinced the judge–and the world–that this was an isolated incident and totally out of character.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)

  • This is so true especially if the company is slandered in the SERPS i.e. if you type in the brand name and the brief results that come up have bad infos, it seems the cache lasts forever…

  • In these two cases, it appears the openness of online services fortunately enabled these two to get what they deserved. The eternal nature of the Internet should be taken seriously, once up, it is there to stay. So, if you wouldn’t yell, perform or advertise your message from your front porch, then don’t put it online.

    That being said, I love it when kids do dumb things and put it up online. As a father of young children, I will be watching online to see if I can find my kids friends, or those around them doing dumb things. And I will have long, painful talks with my kids about what is going on.

    Aaron R. Stewart’s last blog post..Online Reputation Strategies

  • This one is an easy one to me. You CAN’T be remorseful even a bit if you can do this kind of thing. I hope that this new era of “nothing is private” helps some people make better decisions. I’m actually glad that the internet helped expose this person for what he really is. He may not be doing the time he is if he couldn’t be rolled out in front of the world as the moron that he obviously is via this photo. Maybe Facebook should open a MugshotBook section.

    Frank Reed’s last blog post..Small and Medium Business (SMB) Search Marketing – What’s the Deal?

  • So, technology has its uses in social situations as well. I am very happy that these kinds of things have begun to happen.

    Nicole Price’s last blog post..Greetings for Free

  • Excellent post Andy. I like the moral. That’s a very thoughtful point – a “click here for explanation” button. I wonder how long it will take for mainstream educators to work online reputation into their curricula? Our university campuses are sorely in need of such a class.

    Eric’s last blog post..Sony Alpha A200 Review at DP Review

  • holy crap. idiot. tag yourself while you’re at it.

  • I always find it crazy what people post in their social-media-accounts. It is not only the judges. All the companies i know use social-search engines to learn more about potential employees.

  • I’m not sure if the guy uploaded the photos to his own account, it may be that the photos were uploaded and tagged by a friend, but that doesn’t change the moral of the story. 🙂

  • Geez, I was kinda on the fence about those whole reputation management online till I read this post. This is pretty stuff, that can mess you up for life.

    Top Rated Digital’s last blog post..What’s The Top Rated Canon Digital Camera?

  • Wow this is crazy! This is a great example of “perception is reputation” for sure…

  • Does nobody ask how two young people can be so blase about killing people that they can just do the Grand Theft Auto thing and just move on?

    Or is that our new Grand Theft Auto Culture?

  • This seems to happen more and more often. People need to be more careful about what they post.

    Utah SEO Pro’s last blog post..Advanced Keyword Research for SEO

  • Poor kid, err, poor woman that was injured in a car wreck by suck an a**. I’ve heard of this same issue popping up in job interviews…when are going to learn that if we’re idiots, the world will know!!!!

  • Jayson

    such an*

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  • Serves them right really. Pretty idiotic bunch.