Managing your online reputation; difficult to erase your past

If you enter your name on Google, what do you see?

As one Tucson man found out, your online reputation can have life-long implications, both personally and professionally.

He said a video that went viral three years ago has cost him nearly everything.

The former CFO, who was making $200,000 a year, says now three years later he is still unemployed, and using food stamps because of the video.

"When you put yourself out there, you have to be ready for consequences you can never, ever comprehend," said Adam Mark Smith.

The internet does not forget. No one knows that better than Adam Smith of Tucson; he says he lost nearly everything in 2 1/2 minutes.

In 2012, Smith posted a 2 1/2 minute video on Youtube of himself berating a Chick-Fil-A employee because the head of her company spoke out against gay marriage.

The video went viral. 

"It's over a million hits, it might be close to 2 million now... everything just went out of control at that point, my phone started blowing up," said Smith.

"Then I went in to work and that is when I realized it actually was really serious because the front desk receptionist looked at me with really big eyes, and she said Adam, what did you do? I said what are you talking about? She said there're threats on the voicemail that are horrendous and full of hate," he said.

Because of the video, Smith was fired from his job as CFO of a Tucson medical manufacturing company. He said he made $200,000 and had a million dollars in stock options. He lost it all. Then he says people started threatening his family.

"We went to an undisclosed location, paid cash at a hotel, and left our house so we could breath.

Two months later, Smith got a comparable job in Portland, Oregon. But a few weeks after he started he was called into the bosses office.

"They said Adam you should have told us about the video; someone Googled you, and it went viral within the company, and it is a big distraction. I told them what I told you, I think I need to be judged on my 15 years experience, not on a two-minute video. He said, well you should have told us, you're fired," said Smith.

Smith issued a YouTube apology to the Chick Fil A employee, but it wasn't enough.

He says he was rejected seven times that year by other employers who either found out about the video or who he told about the video.

"I took my video down when it had 600 hits, but by that time 2-3 YouTube channels had already mirrored it, I asked them to take it down but they won't do it," he said.

"If it's gone viral, it's probably a really big problem," said Michael Fertik.

Fertik is the CEO and founder of Reputation.com, a company that claims it can fix and enhance your digital reputation.

"Everyone has an online reputation, whether you think it does or not it is affecting every part of your life that matters," said Fertik.

A study from 2010 showed 70% of recruiters say they had rejected applicants based on information they found online.

Fertik said his company does not erase negative content but instead buries the bad by emphasizing the good. 

"We make sure that shows up on the top of Google, we make sure review sites have a complete picture of you and your business," he said.

So is there a way to erase negative stuff online? "No, not really," replied Fertik.

Fertik suggests you Google yourself to see what's online.

Experts suggest untagging yourself from embarrassing photos, deleting questionable posts from social media accounts, and checking your privacy settings.

Fertik suggests claiming your digital real estate before there's a problem.

But using a company like his can be expensive.

"If you want to establish a reputation it is a few hundred bucks to do so, if you have a problem and you want to repair it, it can cost thousands of dollars," said Fertik.

Smith admits he's looked into companies like reputation.com but he cannot afford them, and he doesn't know if they can repair the damage his video has done.

He hasn't been able to find steady work since the video went viral nearly three years ago. He says he and his family are now on food stamps.

Last month he published a book about his experience.

"The title is Million Dollar Cup of Water, because the free cup of water ended up costing me a million dollars, really more than that, and it's what I've learned," said Smith.

"I've grown as a person, to a person that I'd never thought I'd be, when you go through so much suffering, rejection, public humiliation, you learn who you are as a human being," he said.

Smith says he's sold around 100 copies of his book, you can buy it online here: http://www.amazon.com/Million-Dollar-Cup-Water-Authenticity-ebook/dp/B00UIFEHV0
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