(via The Huntsville Times/Eric Schultz)

When you’re asked to review the online reputation of a 3-star army general, you choose your words carefully. When that general used to be in charge of the missile defense system, and has a reputation for being “toxic,” you choose your words very carefully.

I spoke with the Army Times, who asked me to look at the Google profile of Retired Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly and speculate whether he had hired a reputation management firm. I told them…

“It does look like a classic case of reputation management,” said Andy Beal, author of Repped: 30 Days to a Better Online Reputation. “A quick perusal for the search results for his name indicate there has been a deliberate attempt to take control of what shows up in Google. You have multiple social media accounts, all talking about him in the third person, all talking about him in a positive light. If there is something negative trying to be suppressed, this is how you would do that.”

Then there’s this…

While Beal had no first-hand knowledge of O’Reilly’s dealings with OptimizeUp, he estimated, based on search results, that O’Reilly had launched an extensive campaign of several months that cost between $10,000 and $15,000. The campaign appeared to have involved registering and posting profiles, and ghostwriting entries.

As you can see, even though it clearly looks like he hired an ORM firm, I wasn’t about to make that accusation a fact.

However, Business Insider picked up on the story, and apparently doesn’t share the same caution. The title of its post reads…

Toxic General Pays $15,000 To Try To Whitewash Negative Search Engine Results

That’s a bit of a stretch, but I guess they wanted a headline that would get clicked.

The lessons here?

First, if you implement a reputation clean-up campaign, try not to make it so obvious that your detractors call you out on it.

Second, fact checking takes second place to sensational headlines. :-(

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