How NOT to Smear Someone Online

This week, one of my coworkers discovered a negative review of my company from the Dallas area. We rely upon word of mouth, so we monitor these reviews closely in our markets. The individual posted a very negative review, and even said that he had spoken with me about a refund but never heard back.

I was skeptical of this review from the off, and it only took a few minutes to expose it as a blatant and poorly executed smear. The poster used a very distinctive UN, which I Googled. I was astounded to find that the Google UN was the man’s Twitter handle, and his account information revealed his REAL NAME! One quick trip to LinkedIn and I found that he runs a test prep company in Dallas – clearly he had the incentive to try to make us look bad. Further investigation revealed that he had not only smeared us but also reviewed his own company (glowingly of course).

Naturally, It’s not OK to mess with someone’s career that way, especially in such a premeditated fashion (he called to get my name). However, it was so poorly executed that if was more funny than anything. If he had just used a generic UN, we never would have been able to find him. In the end, we checked again today, and the review was taken down. I suppose he may have seen that we were viewing his LinkedIn profile and known the game was up.

So, what does this mean? It raises big questions about online identity and reputation. First, a more sophisticated operator could have smeared me and gotten away with it quite easily. As it is, we probably lost business in Dallas because of that review. On the other hand, we were able to identify him precisely because of his online presence. Second, this reinforces that old cliche “Don’t believe everything you read”. I use online reviews all the time, and will freely admit that I do not always scrutinize the origin of each one, even though I see myself as a fairly savvy internet user and critical thinker. One solution to this problem is the system of “verified reviews” that sites like Beat the GMAT use. Another is to use Reputation.com or another service. Whatever the circumstances, this experience shows that it pays to manage your online identity and reputation very carefully.

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