How to ruin your reputation with a YouTube video

It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it,” said businessman Warren Buffet. A Top American business executive, Adam Mark Smith, recently reduced those five minutes to about two minutes, with his video that went viral on YouTube. The financial director lost his 200,000 dollar a year job and a million dollars in stock options. All because of a protest video against the homophobic remarks made by the head of Chick-Fil-A fast-food chain.

In an era dominated by social media, a video or any other content that goes viral can be a major problem and ruin your reputation. Be careful of what you post. Internet never forgets anything.

Adam Mark Smith from Arizona found out the hard way. He was working for a medical device manufacturer as the financial director. So how did he end up losing a well-paid job? Because in summer 2012 he filmed himself berating a Chick-Fil-A employee over homophobic comments made by his boss, Dan Cathy, who is at the centre of anti-gay marriage protests in the USA.

On the video, Adam Mark Smith approaches the counter for a cup of free water. “I don’t want to give my money to this hateful company,” he says to the waitress, who tries to keep calm. “I don’t know how you can work here,” he continues before leaving.

Posting the video on YouTube and its virality had disastrous consequences. Adam Smith’s voicemail was filled with threatening messages and he was shortly dismissed by his employers. Although the video was taken off YouTube, it was too late – the content was shared by others and soon aggressive and sarcastic content about him was spread all over the web.

Two months later, Adam Mark Smith found another job. Only to be dismissed a few weeks later when his employers discovered the video and reproached him for not talking to them about it during his job interview.

The apology he made to the Chick-Fil-A employee he ranted at made no difference. Nor did his public acceptance of the apology, in which she explained that it was the fact he filmed her and posted the video online that had shocked her. Today, Adam Mark Smith is unemployed and his family lives on food stamps.

Adam Mark Smith has written a book about his experience “Million dollar cup of water”. He says he has only sold 17 digital copies on Amazon and yet has 23 of the lowest marked reviews for his book!

How not to ruin your online reputation – be careful of the opinions you post

s well as making a good story, the fate of Adam Smith can teach us how traces are left on the internet. They can have devastating effects on a person’s private and professional life. Especially if they are shared and viralised.

Content (articles, videos, photos etc.) can turn up online at any time and stain the reputation of an individual, a brand or a company. According to a recent survey by the recruiting platform Jobvite, 93% of American employers use or plan to use social media for recruitment purposes.

How to avoid ruining your online reputation?

The first piece of advice is to be careful of the opinions you post. The fine line between our private and professional lives has been blurred by social networks and blogs. Certain comments or personal opinions posted online can have disastrous consequences.

Remember, for example, the tweet sent by Justine Sacco, head of public relations for the American media group IAC, before she went to South Africa: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get Aids. Just kidding. I’m white!”

The consequences? A tweet turned viral at the speed of light, some very angry reactions and, despite a letter of apology from Juliette Sacco to her employer, she was dismissed. Since then, unlike Adam Mark Smith, Justine Sacco has found a new job with an NGO in Africa fighting maternal mortality.

How not to ruin your online reputation – better safe than sorry

Controlling the traces you leave is of particular importance when it comes to job interviews. According to a 2014 survey on recruitment methods carried out by the recruiting platform Jobvite, 55% of employers are influenced by social networks(1)Candidates must therefore be especially vigilant about their online reputation.

Particularly as we know employers frequently Google their candidates. In the case of Adam Mark Smith, Google first page hits put him at a disadvantage.

To avoid regretting posting certain content, you can delete the tag of the post, photograph or video so that you no longer appear on it. However, this does not delete the actual post. On Facebook for instance, you can access moderation options by clicking on the padlock in the top right corner of your account.

How not to ruin your online reputation – use special websites to help you remove traces on social media

Once the damage is done, there are websites that can help delete traces you have left. Such as Account Killer for English speakers, Just Delete Me, a directory of over 250 websites that ranks them according to how easy or difficult it is to delete an account. However, this does not stop your content being shared and quickly becoming uncontrollable.

YouTube, Wikipedia, Pinterest and Blogger are on Internet’s black list because it is almost impossible to completely delete your account. Personal data is an absolute godsend for website designers. You cannot, for example, delete your YouTube account without deleting your Google account, but you can delete your channel. On the other hand, it is easy to delete Twitter via your account settings or Google Plus by going into Google Plus account settings.

How not to ruin your online reputation – exercise your right to be forgotten

Since 13 May 2014 another solution, unfortunately not available to Adam Mark Smith as an American citizen, lies in the right to be forgotten in certain conditions for residents of the European Union, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway.

Statistics show that the right to be forgotten requests mainly concern social networks and blogs. This is due in large part to confidentiality settings being poorly configured.

According to statistics gathered by and Reputation VIP a year on from the right to be forgotten ruling, a fifth of requests concern social networks and community platforms. But although the number of requests is high, so is the failure rate – the same source shows us that only 7% of URLs removed by Google are from social networks, and the fact that a person is responsible for their content is the second reason for refusal.

With request refusals running so high (70%), Bertrand Girin, CEO of Reputation VIP, is calling for new provisions to help people who have had their requests rejected by search engines. “This is a matter of concern that should be addressed as part of the European Union’s data protection directive.”


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