When it comes to managing an online reputation, college professors are among those who should be most cautious about what information about them is available on the internet. Facebook, Twitter, review sites, and other social media are great tools for creating an engaging campus environment, but they also come with a downside: the potential for defamatory, false content to be published by former students, faculty, and others.
Many students consult online review sites when selecting classes for the next semester to see what others have said about the professor for the course. The most popular review site for professors is ratemyprofessors.com; there are ratings for over a million professors submitted by over 11 million users. More than 6,000 schools can be found on this site in countries all over the globe.
Needless to say, a professor’s rating on just this one site can have a huge impact on his or her online reputation. Professionally, teachers succeed or fail based on the quality of their courses and their reputation among their peers in their field. Also, department heads and administrators can look at a teacher’s online reviews and find a fairly broad impression of how much students value his or her course. A bad reputation on review sites can hurt a career; likewise, praise from students can be a boost to a professor.
Unfortunately for professors, some students will go to great lengths to damage the reputation of a teacher who they feel has graded unfairly or otherwise upset them. Many defamation attacks are perpetrated by sophisticated individuals who know how to manipulate web services to promote false, malicious content on search engines and social media platforms. Professors are particularly at risk for being the targets of such smear campaigns, due to the sheer number of students they teach over the course of their career.
This isn’t to say teachers shouldn’t be criticized online or held to account for their performance; however, when reviews or comments cross the line and are deliberately inaccurate and contain knowingly false information, this rises to the level of libel. Libel is the written form of defamation; that is, making false statements with malicious intent. Defamation is illegal, whether online or off.
Professors can be proactive when managing their online reputations. A simple Google search will determine whether your reputation is being maligned on the internet and on what websites the libelous content is being published. Professors should immediately create personal profiles on these websites to prevent others from posing as them in forums or discussions. Also, be careful when posting images, status updates, or videos to personal Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or any other social media outlet. Teachers are (rightly) held to a higher professional standard than most others. As a general rule, professors should assume a student, parent, colleague, or administrator will see anything posted online. If the content is questionable, it probably shouldn’t be posted.
For serious cases of online attacks against professors, professional assistance is usually required to combat and protect against the perpetrators. Reputations need not be tarnished on the internet; sooner or later, a bad online reputation affects an offline reputation, as well.
Image credits: top Viktor Cap / Fotolia; bottom Wellford Tiller / Fotolia.