Widespread use of the internet by regulatory agencies to post disciplinary actions, causing damage to licensees’ reputations and dramatically impacting careers, is a deeply unfortunate reality. Prior to widespread use of the internet, “practical obscurity” kept disciplinary information largely out of the reach of the public, because records were only available by telephonic or written request. “Practical obscurity” has given way to “ambient findability,” the ability for anyone with internet access to readily access information. State agencies now post both pending, unproven accusations and disciplinary decisions, indefinitely, and with impunity, in their role to protect the public.
The rise of “ambient findability” has prompted a new service known as “reputation enhancement” or “reputation defense.” Simply put, if one cannot remove derogatory information from the internet, but anyone can freely post information, negative or positive, then posting as much neutral or positive information can overwhelm and obscure a negative entry. Although there are services that will flood the internet with positive information to bury negative information, it is also possible to do it by oneself. Indeed, it is imperative that every person regularly check, and take charge of, their internet reputation.
Facebook, My Space, Twitter, online professional directories, and other sites enable one to make numerous free web pages, producing substantial content for search engines. Although time consuming, it is possible to create a significant positive web presence. To the extent that a licensee’s name is unique, and therefore easily searched, the greater the “ambient findability.” Such licensees should be very vigilant with their internet reputation. Individuals with more ordinary names can be much more difficult to search.
Unfortunately, information on a licensing agency’s website itself remains accessible for one who does a basic search and click. In the future, licensees may bring lawsuits to prevent the dissemination of unproven allegations or inaccurate disciplinary information. California’s Information Practices Act and other laws could provide relief, particularly when disciplinary information becomes outdated and irrelevant.