Get Unvarnished bills itself as an online reputation management Web site. Detractors wonder if it invites adult cyberbullying (a.k.a. cyberstalking). Who is right? Can you control your online reputation with the help of third parties?
Unvarnished: Online Reputation Management … Through Outsourcing
The Web site is GetUnvarnished.com(1) and it promises “truth in reputation.” As a form of online reputation management, Unvarnished capitalizes on the dawning understanding that hiring managers routinely scour the Internet for applicants’ names and background data when making hiring decisions.
Beating negative postings to the punch, Unvarnished intends to be the online platform for building an online reputation from the ground up with community-contributed professional evaluations of would-be new hires and current employees. Anyone can start a profile on a professional and the person in question does not have the power of the ‘delete’ key. Thus, Unvarnished truth is truly that … unvarnished.
Online Reputation Management Tool or Invitation for Cyberstalking?
Not surprisingly, professionals are strongly encouraged to find favorable reviewers who will post onto Unvarnished. Thus, any negative content may be drowned out by the sheer mass of complimentary comments and professional postings. This then begs the question if Unvarnished – likely as an unintended consequence – does not provide a powerful tool for the habitual cyberstalker.
Cyberstalking Definition Against the Backdrop of ‘Legitimate Purpose’
Adult cyberbullying, more commonly referred to as cyberstalking, has a number of faces. Wired Safety(2) defines cyberstalking as an online activity that combines elements of malice, repetition, premeditation, harassment and personal direction with an obsession or vendetta. It causes distress to the victim.
Without a doubt, Unvarnished looks like a playground for any cyberstalker with a virtual ax to grind. Postings – protected by anonymity – may invite maliciousness, repetition and a good deal of premeditation. They can be harassing and most certainly personally directed against the professional. Could they be grounded in an obsession or personal vendetta? Absolutely.
Yet Unvarnished manages to circumnavigate a cyberstalking definition by embracing one component: a legitimate purpose. Online reputation management is a legitimate purpose and thus the service the site provides fulfills a growing need. Cyberstalking is malicious adult cyberbullying that is devoid of purpose.
The Wild World of Liability
It is interesting to note that even if cyberstalking could be asserted and postings on Unvarnished were adjudicated to fall under this category, who is liable? Unvarnished does not make any claims of veracity and does not fact-check postings. The First Amendment protects posters. Thus, it is likely the human resources manager who relies on Unvarnished truths who is left holding the bag.
- Dumont, Esq.- as quoted by the L.A. Times(3) – acknowledges that “It essentially encourages defamation because it guarantees a forum for venting.” Now that’s an unvarnished truth.