Whether You Win or Lose in Court, Everyone Loses Online
If you have ever represented a client who has been arrested, or found themselves in civil litigation then you may be familiar with one of the negative side effects of the internet. In 2018, nothing is private.
Anyone who is arrested has a good shot of finding their name and photograph in a local newspaper and published online. Within a few months websites that publish mugshots, offer online background checks, or supply personal information will freely collect the arrest information and disseminate it for all to see. One arrest can often end up leading to a half dozen negative links that rank very highly in Google, repeatedly pointing out to anyone that searches, that this person was arrested for a crime.
The facts of the case don’t really matter when it comes to the negative effects it has on the person’s reputation. Whether charges are dropped, found innocent or guilty, most news and public info sites do not state the outcome. Even if the outcome is stated, the negative stigma of an arrest would greatly weigh on people’s opinion. In most circumstances, Google is far and away, the easiest and most convenient way to gather additional information about someone you just met. Eighty-five percent of U.S. recruiters and HR professionals say that a prospective employee’s online reputation influences their hiring decisions at least to some extent. In your personal life, most new love interests and friends will search you soon after meeting you.
With civil matters, the parties are often spared having their pictures online, but they still run the risk of online newspapers or blogs reporting on the dispute. Court documents regularly find their way online during or after the case, detailing the accusations. If the defendant has a business, being sued can be quite financially damaging regardless of the outcome of the case or the legal costs involved. A study in 2014 concluded seventy-eight percent of American consumers have used online reviews to assess a company. Prospective clients, employees, banks, and partners regularly search online to assess and make decisions about a business.
In Europe, laws have been enacted (The Right To Be Forgotten) to attempt to offer some protection to those that find themselves negatively impacted by minor mistakes made in the past. The law has been met with controversy, criticism over its implementation, and concerns about the slippery slope of policing the internet. There is no easy answer in balancing privacy concerns while protecting freedom of speech.
The internet is still fairly young and it will be interesting to see how this issue evolves with time. As of now, most legal matters in the United States seem to find their way online one way or another. Unless something changes, most links will stay on the internet forever, negatively impacting those accused, decades after the matter has been resolved in court.