From fame to shame
COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio (The Philippine Star) - October 7, 2013 - 12:00am

Gossiping, hostile badmouthing, bullying and rumor-mongering are nothing new. Nowadays, character assassins have new platforms from which to attack, and they come in various configurations — search result manipulation, identity theft, undocumented charges and concocted images, Google bombs, anonymous and mirror sites, data theft, and perhaps most menacingly, vendetta websites camouflaging as news sites.

Megan Young, the newly crowned Miss World 2013, is a recent victim of cyber bullying or “digital assassination,” when a certain Devina Dediva, allegedly of Manchester University in Indiana, posted on her Facebook account this statement: “Miss Philippines is Miss World? What a joke! I did not know those maids have anything else in them! Hahahaha! They’re poor, smelly from cleaning toilet and uneducated. They’re less privileged everywhere. I’m surprised one can win. What a joke those people cleaning our toilets won Miss World.”

Many ordinary Filipinos reacted angrily to this “assassination” with many threatening to hit back at the assassin.

Sex videos that are knowingly uploaded — one involving a singer-comedian and a dancer, and a rock artist and his partner — are classified as “murders” of the online kind. Indeed, “digital assassination” is a purposeful move to spread damaging untruths, or take a piece of information disgustingly out of context or exaggerate it weirdly, wiping out carefully built brands or businesses, careers, and personal relationships in the process.

The Internet is an infinite world of information and linkages; fuels the economy, boosts world culture and promotes democracy. But it is also the nest of digital assassins who lie in wait unnoticed and wait for their time to throw verbal, visual and technological bombs to damage reputations — and sign up others via social media to attain their evil motives more quickly. That’s the hideous reality of online life, as described by Richard Torrenzano and Mark Davis in their book Digital Assassination: Protecting Your Reputation, Brand or Business Against Online Attacks. The tome paints an accurate representation — one that brands, businesspeople, public figures and celebrities alike must take seriously if they want to thrive in today’s digital age, as “this power of the new digital assassin to destroy is as powerful as YouTube but as old as civilization,” the authors declare.

But “digital assassination” is not just about the technology. It’s also about human behavior. “It’s now possible to launch attacks without any technical skill,” Torrenzano and Davis explain. “You can buy the malware you want online, as well as the talent to deploy it. And now, anybody can impersonate a brand or make an anonymous comment online. You can do that with a cheap digital device tapping into Wi-Fi at any café. These things are getting dumbed down and hacking has become democratized,” they warn.

The authors identify seven common forms attackers now assume in the digital era, and even gave them creative labels. These include: “New Media Mayhem,” “Gossip Girls” who push aside traditional media and balanced reporting; “Silent Slashers,” online damage to your business and reputation by unfelt “cuts;”
 “Evil Clones,” confessions to something terrible using your name and image; “Human Flesh Search Engine,” crowd sourcing that inspires instant digital lynch mobs; “Jihad by Proxy,” moneyed interests that engage in “motive laundering” to launch deadly online attacks; “Truth Remix,” spinning a bad fact into something far worse; and “Clandestine Combat,” the ease with which competitors or enemies simply purloin your secrets. These “Seven Swords of Digital Assassination” cut and slice at reputations in different ways, and each can be devastating, whether singly or in combination.

The bottomline impact of a “digital assassination” on a company or brand is best demonstrated by the Domino’s Pizza example, in which, as the book narrates, two employees did vulgar things online that smeared the brand. The company’s communication team issued a sincere response in two to four days, but in today’s digital world, that’s a lifetime. “A 24-hour day now really is three digital days of eight hours each as you move around the globe. So, it was a meaningless response,” the authors emphasize.  Companies need to put processes in place so they can be more responsive in a timely, eight-hour digital day. Domino’s had huge problems with their stock valuation then, and with customers falling off. It also cost them a great deal to revive their reputation. Here are some tips to deal with this phenomenon:

Start with building a “Reputation Cushion.” It’s stuffed with positive posts like your work with charity, your resume, your blog — you tie it all together with links to other sites like alumni groups, industry associations and so on. It’s all about SEO, which can be your best weapon. If your positive material replaces any negative material on a Google search, that helps. That works 100 percent of the time. That’s a complete victory. Start there and realize that everything negative can move up the search rankings quickly.

Monitor your online reputation on a regular basis.  You may use social media monitoring tools like Google Alerts, but there are more advanced social listening tools that you can also employ.

Measure what’s going on in real time.  Determine who is doing the attacking, determine why they are doing it and then decide what’s the best course of action you can take — which could include not even responding. You have to do that in hours, if not minutes.

Have a crisis response plan in place. Put a team, a war room with resources in place, muster the ability to do deep dive and understand who is attacking and why they are attacking via social media monitoring, and design a detailed decision tree outlining how to respond or not respond in place.

When attacked, approach the web master of the site that hosted the comment. Or if you know the actual person who posted the offensive material, politely ask him to take it down. The upside of this is that it might clear up a misunderstanding or elicit compassion. The downside is that if your digital assassin is the kind of person who feels joy from inflicting pain, you might encourage more attacks.

Use Google’s URL removal tool to remove the material. That is, if the web master or actual digital assassin agrees to it. You can’t do the actual removal for them, but you can guide them on how to do it. The URL removal tool will effectively remove the offending post from being read by Google’s spiders. You will then have satisfaction, with the offensive material being cleaned out in a short time, assuming the post has not yet gone viral.

Avail of the legal boilerplate that you can use to your advantage. Most websites have a “Terms of Service” statement that prevents defamatory material. Thus, a more aggressive step is to contact the web master and inform him that the defamatory post is contrary to his site’s “Terms of Service.” Politely ask him to take it down. Most web masters will. But in this case, you run the risk of spurring the digital assassin, stung by seeing his post removed, to launch a fresh attack from another venue.

If your digital assassin cannot be identified, file a John or Jane Doe lawsuit. This will force an Internet Service Provider to give up the assassin’s IP address. This is being done in the USA but not yet in the Philippines. In many cases, however, a lawsuit only serves to proliferate material you don’t want others to see. An example of this is the famous “Streisand Effect,” named after Barbara Streisand, whose legal strong-arm tactics resulted in spreading material that few had seen all across the Internet.  The authors likewise shared their thoughts on what the future holds:

Computers will become a million times more powerful. And hacking will become easier for non-technical people. While the Internet strips privacy from people, it will bestow greater anonymity to hackers.

There will be more of what is called the “troll phenomenon.” This is  “ugliness online” and a general belief that any expression of sentiment or sympathy is inherently false and worthy of ridicule.  Online trolls are doing inhuman things to people. They are cultural viruses or memes that won’t go away anytime soon.

There will be a takeoff of satire online. Logos and brands, for example, are satirized with Saturday Night Live production levels in the Internet. You saw this with British Petroleum and others. It’s legally bulletproof. Hackers can even put “sucks” after your URL and own that domain. Activists are getting into this now, too. The only thing you can do is to watch, be aware and let it go.

Digital combat marketing. Competitors will fiercely beat each other up online. This goes back to the Cola Wars, network wars and mobile phone wars. It’ll grow more ferociously online in the years ahead, with big brands talking about other brands’ products.

Hacking is now available to average people. It can be done through downloadable, affordable software programs, and you will continue to witness an extension of the trend as average people are picking up wily Internet moves. 

The media, driven by hasty competitive pressure, is now in danger of becoming a digital flash mob. They will be broadcasting half-truths about serious and fast-breaking events.  The opportunity exists for a criminal or ideologically driven digital assassin to dip into the stream to misdirect the media, and thus mislead law enforcement and even national political leaders, that lead them to make instant, wrong decisions in the middle of a serious crisis.

“It’s not Big Brother any more.  It’s Little Snitch.” That’s because there are so many cameras and cell phones hovering around. The list of people burned this year by Little Snitch — a software firewall used to monitor applications, preventing or permitting them to connect to attached networks through advanced rules — would be a redundant replay of the year’s entertainment news.

“Google-bombing” and impersonation will be more prevalent. Google-bombs will continue to create large numbers of links that substitute your search results with unrelated or off-topic keyword phrases that are comical and satirical, while impersonators will continue to be around — faking messages, activities and representations.

Age will need to approach technology with greater skill, while youth will need to approach technology with greater wisdom.  So you must think speed if you’re an older company, and think before you act if you’re a young startup.

 â€œIn ancient Rome, you could paint over a wall when you were slandered,” explains Davis. “But today, it lives online forever. It has instantaneity, eternal memory and is searchable.” To protect your brand, your business or your person from “digital assassination,” you should have a balanced understanding of the technology platforms available now and timeless human behaviors based on the motivators of money, sex, power and envy.  With that you will have the best grasp on the things to come, as well as future world challenges. Your goal is to ensure that your online and offline fame does not turn to shame.

* * *

E-mail bongosorio@yahoo.com or bong_osorio@abs-cbn.com for comments, questions or suggestions. Thank you for communicating.

ASSASSIN ASSASSINATION DIGITAL GOOGLE LITTLE SNITCH MATERIAL MISS WORLD NOW ONLINE
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