The Internet has radically changed the media, reputation and reporting. We find that liaising with the media and watching out for the family online sometimes falls on the heads of Private Assistants and Executive Assistants in successful individuals' private offices or household.
Given that this sometimes throws up challenging questions and issues, we have prepared a short guide which covers off the questions that are most frequently asked by PAs and EAs. Of course, in the online world, reputation is changing day-to-day and the correct answers could change overnight, but this should be a good starter for ten.
What should I do if I spot something negative in the media or on social media?
It very much depends on what the negative piece of content is – and where it sits online. Critically, there is a difference between content that is false, libellous or invades an individual's privacy, and reporting that is true but unhelpful or advances an opinion which is fair but, at the same time, you do not agree with.
If the material is news reporting and falls into that first category, depending on the publication, it may be best to get in contact and share accurate, up-to-date facts. A reporter will usually welcome extra and accurate information. If the material is placed on a blog or on social media – or you suspect it is part of a false information campaign – it may be best to consider legal options. It will very much depend on the situation.
If the content falls into the second category, first we must accept that people are allowed to advance their own opinion and report facts. But that doesn't mean that there is only one side to a story or one interpretation of the facts. Usually, the best course of action, depending on the visibility of the content, is to either get in contact to provide your own response, ignore the material, or put to paper your own side of the story on a platform that you control, such as the family office's website, online.
We generally have a preference for the final strategy as any arguments you advance will not be cut down or filtered through an intermediary.
The individual I support has asked me to get something online taken down. How do I go about that?
Again, this depends on the content and the type of content. Many social media platforms and other websites, such as Twitter, Wikipedia and independent forums and websites, have clear guidelines on what is and is not allowed to be posted. The first step will be to see if the content infringes those rules and, if so, then get in contact with the platform. Alternatively, it may be possible to seek a legal solution if the content infringes the privacy or libels an individual.
However, in many cases, it will either not be possible to remove content – or it may, in fact, be inadvisable. On the one hand, the content may be fair, accurate reporting – and that is best dealt with a response that provides your own perspective on the facts. On the other hand, it may be that the content is so minor and inoffensive that trying to engage will provoke a bigger and more damaging response. Usually, all of these different factors have to be carefully balanced.
Do all media enquiries have to be answered?
There is no obligation to answer a media enquiry. However, it is a mistake to believe that ignoring an enquiry will make it go away. Enquiries have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and there is a difference between a journalist getting in contact because they are proactively looking for a story or some insight – and a journalist getting in contact with specific questions about facts that they have heard from other sources.
If a journalist has heard something that is accurate, it is best to engage openly and honestly, even if it is bad news, but give the family's own perspective and viewpoint. Most importantly of all, never give a journalist false or misleading information. This will not benefit the family – without exception. It is almost certain that the journalist will go back to confirm facts and once the inaccuracy has been uncovered, it will ruin trust with the media for the long-term.
If you feel there is something that you cannot talk about, you can always reserve the right to not comment. But be wary, if you do not comment, often that means your perspective will not be represented in any coverage.
Will I be contacted by the media before the family I support is mentioned?
Most journalists working with the traditional media will take reasonable steps to get in contact before going to print with a story, but this is made much more difficult if the media cannot find a way to get in contact. As a result, it is recommended that you put an email, even a generic one such as contact@, somewhere online that is monitored for enquiries. Without this, many families risk going blind on what could be coming out.
That said, the media has dramatically changed over the last decade. One of the biggest risks to families is now people posting content on blogs or social media. In fact, there are over 600 million blogs in the world today. Many of these blogs are run by individuals on an independent, hobby basis, and these people will generally not get in contact with the family or individual before publishing content. That is why it is very important to monitor the Internet for mentions, where possible, so a course of action can be thought about after publication.
How does Wikipedia work?
Wikipedia is not a media publication and does not have staffed editors. Instead, it is run by a community of volunteer writers and editors who follow guidelines around what can and cannot be added to a profile; the list of rules is extensive. A profile on Wikipedia is not like a profile on LinkedIn; it cannot be controlled nor 'claimed' by the individual who the profile is about.
A Wikipedia page should be factual, impartial and well-referenced. Anyone making edits to a profile that has a connection with the individual should declare their interests in advance but, despite that, making changes directly to a profile where there is an obvious conflict of interest is strongly discouraged. It could risk causing public embarrassment to the individual.
A Wikipedia page cannot be turned into a promotional advert for an individual nor can factual but potentially unhelpful material be removed. Ultimately though, a Wikipedia page must be fair, factual and balanced; if a Wikipedia page is unbalanced, factually incorrect or unfair, this should be brought to the attention of the Wikipedia community in an open and honest way.
Should the family I support have social media accounts?
Social media accounts can often reveal more about a family than they expect. The risk is especially high for younger family members who may not be attuned to the risks. Social media accounts can be used to find information – such as locations, dates of birth, and names of friends and family – very easily. Most importantly, photographs that are published openly on social media can be used in news coverage.
We live in an increasingly digital world and it is generally unrealistic to ask all family members to close down their social media accounts completely. Instead, it is best to make sure that all family members' social media accounts have strong privacy protection, that family members are educated on the risks, and that they make sure that all followers and connections are known and trusted.
What are leaks and the dark web?
Despite a lot of scaremongering, the deep and dark web are not that difficult to understand. These are parts of the Internet that are not accessible via search engines and, in the case of the dark web, are encrypted and need to be accessed through special software.
Personal information – such as names, businesses, emails, addresses and financial details – is sometimes traded and sold on the dark web. This data usually comes from data breaches of big websites, such as personal data being stolen from Adobe or Equifax. As well as being a direct security risk, this information can reveal personal and business information about a family that might otherwise have been private. That is why it is very important to monitor the dark web for personal data, where possible.