"The objective in Negative Public Relations," the company explained, "is to discredit someone else, who may pose a threat to the client's business or be a political rival. Common techniques include using dirty secrets from the target, producing misleading facts to fool a competitor."
This has to be a joke, I thought. After all, the company calls itself "Webcide," obviously a play on "homicide," "suicide," and other forms of "killing."
So I went to the website -- Webcide.com -- and, sure enough, it seemed to be an ordinary reputation management company. Its home page describes its services this way:
"Webcide.com Reputation Search Engine empowers you to find accurate, precise and relaible (sic) negative information about a person or a company.
"Our sophisticated searching tools will show you all lawsuits, bankruptcy, legal issues, negative articles, negative comments, negative customer complaints, scam reports, fraud alerts, arrest records, negative blogs, negative forum posts, negative mentioning, negative reviews about the person or business searched.
"Webcide is also the first and only online reputation management company that permanently removes negative information about you and your business from Google Search Results."
The ethics of all this depends to a large extent on the use to which all that negative information is put, though manipulating Google Search results sounds unethical on its face.
But wait. There's more. Lurking in a description of the company's full range of services is dark PR itself.
Webcide offers to "persuade the public, prospective customers, investors, partners, employees, and other stakeholders to maintain a certain negative point of view about [a competitor or business enemy], its leadership, products, or of (sic) political decisions." And it promises "to execute such a campaign in the most discreet and confidential way, while using only and exclusively legal methods ."
In fact, these "top level professionals in the field of Negative PR" offer to produce "negative corporate and financial communications, negative investor relations and negative opinion research." As they point out, the mistrust this negativity produces "can take years to repair."
Among the techniques they use:
- "Improving the tagging and search engine optimization of negative published materials, such as negative customer testimonials in order to push up negative content.
- "Publishing original, negative websites and social media profiles, with the aim of outperforming negative results in a search.
- "Submitting online press releases to authoritative websites in order to promote negative brand presence and promote negative content.
- "Creating fake blogs pretending to be a different person that shares the same name in order to push up negative search results on the actual person or brand.
- "Using spam bots and denial-of-service attacks to force sites with positive content off the web entirely.
- "Creating anonymous accounts that create negative reviews or lash out against positive ones . Proactively offering free products to prominent negative reviewers."
But not to worry, Webcide claims to "practice ethical forms of negative reputation management." Empasis added.
I'm not making this up. See for yourself at http://www.webcide.com/#!negative-public-relations-/cp1
Unless Webcide itself was the victim of malicous hacking of its website, this is probably the most unethical form of public relations I've seen in a long time.
And if, by chance, anyone at Webcide sees this and wants to explain how any of it could possibly be ethical, I invite them to comment.
Or will I become a victim of Webcide myself?