Defending yourself with internet chaff

cannonOnce something is posted to the internet, it takes on a life of its own. And it is a very, very long life at that. So how do you deal with false information about you or your company, or even true information that you do not want revealed? This is not easy task. Once something gets posted the horse has truly left the barn. And it’s not going back inside. But all is not lost.

First of all, this further supports the argument for having a large and visible presence on line. If you do not curate your online presence, then you are leaving it up to others to do so instead. At best your online presence is disorganized, at worst it is the result of malicious intent. The best way to fight this proactively is to put yourself on the internet in large volume. Posts, tweets, profiles, comments, etc. However you want to do it, the more you put you on the internet, the larger percentage of your online image comes from you and not someone else. And if it comes from you, then you can control it.

Hopefully it goes without saying but I’ll pause for a moment to remind everyone to be scrupulous about what you post, about checking access, and about periodically checking your online presence. First of all, just because you post something that is private today does not mean it will be tomorrow, or that someone might not repost what you say with full attribution, in a public space tomorrow. In general, just don’t post anything you wouldn’t want to see on the website of the New York Times. Ever. To anyone. If you absolutely must post sensitive information, be very, very careful about how you are posting it. Just because you have all your permissions set correctly on Facebook, for example, if you comment on a post that is set to world access then your comment is also open to the world. And every once and a while, log out of all your accounts and google yourself. You may be surprised.

So what to do when, despite your best intentions, something unfortunate gets posted about you at some point? You might get it taken down or retracted if you are very lucky, but it might already be too late. Google or other sites may have already cached it. There are several ways to try to deal with this but the most effective is to drop chaff. When an airplane is being lit up by radar – either from ground based guns or a missile, one way to avoid detection is to use stealth technology of course, but if you can’t become invisible, the next best thing is to get lost in the crowd. The plane will release chaff – strips of metallic material cut to specific dimension s to make them particularly visible on radar. Now the plane is still there, but on radar it suddenly looks like a cloud of hundreds of planes. Which one is the right signal? Hopefully the guns or missile pick the wrong one.

In a similar fashion, you can bury a problem post or tweet or even hashtag in chaff. Let’s take a simple example. If the color of your eyes is a secret, and someone posts that you have green eyes, you are in trouble. But if someone else then posts that you have blue eyes, and a third person posts that you have brown eyes, and a fourth posts that you have black eyes… the correct post is still there but if I’m searching for the color of your eyes, I no longer know which post is correct amongst the chaff. The right information is still there, but it is effectively hidden. This is simple example, but someone might instead have posted something about you that is actually insulting or even damaging If you fail to contain or remove it, the next best thing is to bury it.

You can respond after that fact, but the more online presence you have initially then the less chaff you will need to release when something is posted that you don’t like. Exactly what the chaff needs to be and how to release it for best effect will depend on the specific media and content that you are trying to bury. You might need to create multiple dummy accounts to release the chaff from, for example, or even enlist the help of friends or acquaintances. This, too, argues for strong internet presence up front so that you already have a solid foundation to build on. But however you do it, do it quickly. Unfortunate posts have a way of spreading quickly, and once it catches the attention of the internet you will just have to wait for the storm to pass before you can start to use the chaff to bury the unfortunate incident. Good luck!

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