Reputation Under Fire
As Dan Solove brought alive in his superb book The Future of Reputation, online reputations are fragile and can easily be destroyed by determined individuals. Steve Rattner, a Managing Director at DLJ Merchant Banking, recently learned that lesson the hard way. The New York Times reports that in 2003, Mr. Rattner had an affair with a married woman in London. Even though the affair and the woman’s marriage ended years ago, the woman’s ex-husband began a campaign to destroy Mr. Rattner’s reputation over the summer. On a half a dozen websites, the ex-husband accused Mr. Rattner of using his firm’s money to pay for prostitutes and trying to “steal” the man’s wife with exotic trips and expensive gifts. He included these accusations in emails to Mr. Rattner’s colleagues, clients, and reporters. When asked why he waited five years to respond to the long-ended affair, the ex-husband explained that he needed to get his life “together” in order to address his wife’s betrayal. Although Mr. Rattner admits the affair, he says that the ex-husband’s claims are “either untrue or gross exaggerations.” According to Mr. Rattner, the online accusations have spread like a virus, and he has since resigned from his job.
The Rattner incident demonstrates that online accusations are difficult to contain and even more difficult to counteract. Although it is certainly possible that Mr. Rattner’s work troubles had more to do with the beleaguered market than the online accusations, his situation demonstrates the broader problem that misinformation considerably affects our thinking, no matter how much we protest its influence. We also often forget the collateral damage that can accompany online attacks. Another Wall Street financier has the same name as Steven Rattner–he reports fielding panicked calls from friends and investors who learned of the story. That Steven Rattner, too, had to spend time rehabilitating his online reputation. As in Shusaku Endo‘s terrific novel Scandal, having a doppelgänger is not always easy.