Feb 2017

No such thing as a bad reputation

Written by Paul Maher

No such thing as a bad reputation

At school, we are taught that technology and knowledge are symbiotic. Many of us are taught to learn ancient knowledge by rote. Only during higher education do we move towards the idea of critical thinking and analysis. This concept is very modern, having become acceptable in society during the global Industrial Revolution, from 1500 to 1700, when people started to move away from original ‘known’ knowledge. However, reputation has always been a constant. 
This era was the first to shed its respect for ancient knowledge, as people began to confront knowledge with evidence and data. This age gave birth to the period of enlightenment, which saw the founding of the Republic of Letters, a group of intellectuals forming a community where theorems, ideologies, and ideas were discussed and debated. This exchange of thought, where community discussion was the foundation of advancement is an idea that has lasted to the present day, where it is best seen in the blogosphere.
Indisputably technological advances came out of both communities’ interactions. The key factor underpinning both communities is that of reputation – something PR pros know all about. The same philosophy, on a wider scale, applies to the Internet. In the past, it was very difficult to distribute knowledge and information, now with much critical backlash, anyone, anywhere with an internet connection can post their views and ideas.
The internet is a massive enabler of openness and transparency. However, reputation is vital and until now the internet was built on it. Now, though, unknown names on the internet can create reputations and spread ‘Fake News’. This has changed the rules of the game.
So, we thought we would run through some of the reputations it is possible to build up:
The ‘Good’ reputation There are few truly good people in the world, but the individuals in this category are those who have built up a reputation and following based on the good work they do. Individuals with this reputation include The Pope, Juan Manuel Santos and The Dalai Lama, these three combined have a Twitter following of over 28m, considering the internet has a 3 billion population, this accounts for only 0.9% of all internet user. Their influence on the population is predominantly based around spreading peace and good works. They are crucial in helping spread knowledge of global atrocities and galvanising groups of people to aid in humanitarian efforts.

The ‘Intellectual’ reputation An ‘intellectual’ reputation, is a modern day version of the Republic of Letters, with peer to peer discussion and idea and theories being critiqued and where peer review is conducted on many platforms from blogs to sites like GitHub where it can form the basis for building good quality software code. The internet aids the exchange of intellectual knowledge, particularly for technology, with platforms, such as Open Source, providing world-changing software which is shared and exchanged amongst a community. It also increases access to vast quantities of intellectual property in the form of whitepapers, eBooks and academic journals via major search engines such as Google and Amazon, much more readily than their predecessors; academic libraries.
The ‘Scandalous’ reputation Similar to ‘car crash’ television. People follow the likes of Katie Price and Joey Essex, to see ‘what they will do next’. This type of reputation has arisen due to the development of user based platforms, such as YouTube, where 3.25 billion hours of content is consumed each month. Through these platforms, select individuals are able to indirectly influence groups of people. It could be said they are helping increase knowledge by demonstrating a way of how not to do things.
The ‘Infamous’ reputation In this instance the definition of an ‘Infamous’ reputation is based on a person generating a reputation by voicing very strong and in most cases controversial views. In recent media, there has been an increase in these reputations, with Donald Trump, Katie Hopkins and Piers Morgan, who use social media platforms to tout strong views and widely criticise views that they oppose, for example, the coining of the new term ‘fake news’. These reputations are growing in number as more platforms allow people to express their opinion to a wider audience. Part of the appeal of those with an ‘infamous’ reputation is their black and white opinion which attracts others in times of global uncertainty, for example with Brexit.  

The ‘Hateful’ reputation This reputation is unfortunately on the rise, some would place particular individuals listed as ‘infamous’ in this group, but this section is more about the ‘preachers of hate’. There is a growing propensity in the population to use social media, extremist groups are using this to their advantage. With increasingly hateful and violent content being shared and streamed via social media networks, the influence of these radical groups is growing as the number of people they can reach increases, so their information is spread to others with similar views.

The ‘Celeb’ reputation This particular group of people probably have the largest collective following, they include all of the celebrity gossip column regulars. With the ability to influence millions of followers from a single image, they have the ability to influence mass hype over a product, everyone remembers the Kardashian effect on the Balmain x H&M collaboration, or a failure of another, for example, the call from celebrities for people to boycott of Trump’s inauguration.
Though we have come far in our quest for knowledge from the Industrial Revolution there is still more that can be done. The rise of the internet means many use it as soap box to pass on their ideas, theories, and products to people all over the world. This leads to increased ignorance as people only follow those with views they wish to hear, the so-called ‘Echo Chamber’ effect.
Ironically, as a result, the Internet’s success may mean that an older form of knowledge, free from ‘Fake News’ and relying on reputation may be re-emerging. Many of those who manage communities are now painfully aware, of how much work is required to maintain and build on solid reputations.

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