Ethics is one of the fascinating elements of the Online Reputation Management (ORM) field. When anyone comes across a negative listing on search engine results pages (SERPs), it’s hard not to make an immediate ethical judgment. Whether this is fair or unfair, our minds work this way.
For Moshe Zchut and I, Principals here at Repceptional, ethical judgment issues come into play with many client engagements. What we’ve found over time is that many situations don’t have an easy ethical interpretation – often we’re working within a proverbial “gray area.” To illustrate what I mean, let’s take a look at the recent surge of the #metoo movement, and the implications.
If you ever needed evidence that we live in a viral world, look no further than the #Metoo movement, which started to build momentum in October 2017. It drew intense, widespread attention to a horrific pattern of behavior: Sexual assault and harassment. Victims began to share their stories, which not only provided a cathartic release, but also in some cases revealed the names (many high profile) of men who were behind these awful acts.
Today, the movement carries on, building on its early momentum. Its potential to drastically reduce sexual assault and harassment moving forward is significant. And make no mistake about it – this is a tremendous accomplishment, and long overdue. But it also creates some of the “gray” areas that I referenced earlier, which leads to ethical issues that impact the lives of many people.
For example, consider the high-profile case of the French CEO that was publicly “outed” by a leader of the #metoo movement in France, who pointed to him as someone who had sexually harassed her. The CEO did not deny any wrongdoing; he admitted to using highly inappropriate language in a single, isolated situation, and apologized profusely. Due to the high-profile nature of the case, it received extensive media coverage. A current Internet search for the Executive’s name bears evidence to this, and it can potentially have a significant impact on his career. To that end, he has been extremely vocal about the “unfairness” of the situation. In his eyes, his one-time mistake, which came with an earnest, sincere apology, wasn’t anything remotely close to sexual assault. But the significant negative press that he received carries the same weight as many of the serial offenders who repeatedly committed horrible crimes.
Then consider the case of the American Comedian who was also publicly accused of being a #metoo sexual assault offender. The details of a date between he and the alleged victim were made public through many high-profile media outlets. And it left a lot of unanswered questions, most notably: Were these the actions of a sexual offender, or that of a socially awkward person who completely misread a common dating situation? The comedian himself denied any wrongdoing, and voiced support for the #metoo movement. But the potential damage to his career can be game changing.
You can see from these two examples that many situations in life are subject to a variety of ethical interpretations. And of course, there is always the Fifth Amendment, which reminds us that people are always innocent until proven guilty.
Taking all of this into consideration, Moshe and I operate under the following principle guideline: Repceptional’s job is not to judge the ethics of any given situation. We assume the best in people, and keep it simple, not subject to interpretation. Our job is to repair, build and protect online brands. Period. Withholding ethical judgment enables us to do this most effectively.
That said, could there be an extreme situation where we feel an ethical obligation to turn down a potential client? Absolutely. Fortunately we haven’t been close to anything like this.
For more content on this fascinating topic, click below to watch Repceptional Principal Mike Kresch speak in more detail about the ethical implications at play here:
Do you have any questions about online reputation management? If you’d like to discuss anything pertaining to your own situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us for a free consultation.