Just as I was logging into De Novo to note a Slate piece about online reputations, which noted the case of someone accused of a sexual offense against a minor and later cleared, a New Jersey man whose reputation was kicked around in the comments to a post showed up in those comments to defend himself. The post to which these comments were made did not mention Michael McClure -- indeed, I'd never heard of him -- but instead was a critique of Georgia judge Craig L. Schwall. The first comment made about McClure seemed so self-evidently ridiculous that I didn't delete it. The next comment about McClure seemed to be a cut-and-paste of an actual news article, so it remained as well. Now McClure says the article was doctored, and points out that the charges against him were dropped and that multiple families with parents in law enforcement have chosen him to teach their children. As he hasn't asked that the prior erroneous comments be deleted, they won't be; anyone who comes to De Novo while searching for a Michael McClure involved in dance in New Jersey will see his self-defense quickly and easily.
But this brings me back to the Slate column, in which Jack Shafer advises those who are troubled by negative, outdated information being the top Google hit for their name that they should simply remake their online image by purchasing the domains for their names and getting links to pages that present positive, accurate information. "I'm all for getting the Times to correct meaningful errors of fact in a decent interval, but if you want to secure a better reputation than the one that Google currently spits out, get busy and build it yourself." This is reminiscent of the Reputation Defender strategy of pushing the negative webpage down in the search hits by getting positive ones higher PageRanks, but the people Shafer mentions mostly have an advantage in that the Times ran a correction or an updated story. They don't even need to spend money on their own page, they just need to get people to link heavily to the better Times article.
They also probably won't face the problems that beleaguered female law students who were harassed at AutoAdmit.com. The New York Times won't take a punitive attitude toward them; hell, it's the Times's own public editor who is bewailing what has befallen them. There will be no campaign to keep the negative information about them high on the Google hit list. While I lack Shafer's dismissive attitude toward those shy of publicity -- an attitude born, I suspect, of having deliberately pushed himself into the public eye by becoming a journalist -- I would tell Allen Kraus and his unnamed brethren to count themselves lucky to be dealing with merely the biased, leftwing Big Media, and not with anonymous forum posters.
UPDATE: McClure has requested that the comments be deleted, and this post also has been edited accordingly. Any future comments relating to him will be deleted as well.