One of the more serious consequences of cyberbullying is that it can damage your child’s online identity. Slanderous messages can be difficult to get rid of, and on the Internet, unless you take steps to eradicate them, some posted messages can last virtually forever. There are many ways, however, that you can proactively protect your child’s online reputation from cyberbullying, as well as repair the damage caused by an Internet bully.
Step 1: Know when a child is being cyberbullied
Set up Google alerts for your child’s name. This is a free service that alerts you anytime a certain name or phrase is found by Google’s search bots anywhere on the web. It will give you an instant heads up should anyone post a slanderous message about your child on a page that search engines can index. Just set it up for your child’s name (first and last), your child’s email address or any hash tags that are used online, or your child’s school and any nicknames your child has. The more broad the terms you use, the more unrelated results you’ll get, but if you at least do names, emails and schools, you should get alerts that are relevant.
Google alerts will not work for closed membership sites such as Facebook, (they should for MySpace), but it’s still worth doing. We recommend you set this up to send the results to YOUR email and not your child’s (that is, if your web-savvy teen isn’t already tracking their name on their own). It’s better if you filter anything new and hurtful that does come up, rather than having it go directly to them.
Step 2: Create a website for your child to crowd out slanderous messages
When somebody Google’s your child’s name, you don’t want the results at the top of the page to be the bully’s lies and hurtful comments. The good news is that even if you can’t get rid of the posted messages, you can at least drown them out by pushing them down in the search results so that almost nobody sees them.
If your child has a common name or one also owned by a celebrity, you probably don’t need to worry about this, since the bullies comments will be pushed so far down in search results that they are irrelevant anyway. Nobody is going to wade through 10,000 pages about Tom Cruise the movie star to find info about your child Thomas Cruise. If anyone semi-famous for anything has ever shared your child’s name, anything about your child will likely be buried as page # 1,896 of 4,931 results when someone searches on it. If this is the case, you shouldn’t have to worry about slanderous messages involving your kid showing up in search results.
If your child has a unique name that ranks high when people Google it, then you can (and probably should) start your own website in the child’s name: www.Jane-Doe.com.or Fred-Jenkins-Site.net. Most search engines give added relevance to a site if the search term (in this case your child’s name) is included in the domain name of the site. The next step is to populate it with several dozen pages. The pages can be about your child or about other things, so long as each page includes text with your child’s name in a prominent position. Next, you need to gather incoming links to this website. Having other people link to the site is what tells search engines that this website is important enough to pay attention to. You can post links from your own blog, or sponsor pages throughout our site for a small annual donation to get higher-rated links. This not only increases your websites PageRank value but associates your child’s name with something positive. Once you complete this process, you should be able to get it so that your child’s information from their own site shows up at the top of the list in search results, and any slander by bullies is buried at the bottom.
Step 3: Repair the damage of cyberbullying through an Internet Identity Specialist
Though often quite expensive (most run several thousand dollars at the minimum), there are companies out there who specialize in repairing web identities. They do this both by trying to remove slanderous material and by building other pages that will populate the search engines with positive stuff in the manner we just discussed, thus pushing the other results down on the list. If you have the money, go for it. But since the primary thing these companies do is build pages and work on getting links to them, you might be better off going about it on your own. Web sites are simple and cheap to set up ($2.99/month for hosting and if you don’t know how to build one, chances are someone you know does), and you can become a sponsor of our site to get links that are far more cost-effective than paying a web specialist to create them.