Search and destroy: Scottie Griffin battles online rep
It appears former Charlottesville School superintendent Scottie Griffin has been Googling her name, as have her potential employers, only to be reminded of something she would rather forget. Unfortunately for Griffin, we live in a brave new world where search engines like Google do not forget, and where unflattering or damaging information can remain online for years.
But Griffin appears to be fighting back.
Recently, a company called ReputationDefender contacted the Hook via email requesting that an article in which Griffin is mentioned be removed, or at least that her last name be omitted and that our webmaster keep it from showing up on search engines.
"We are not interested in censoring news articles or anyone's creative talents," writes 'Nick F.' " However, if someone were to use a search engine to look up her name, this article turns up."
Ironically, it was the lack of background information on Griffin that may have led to her resignation, and regret by the Charlottesville School Board that it had not been readily available before she was hired. After 10 months on the job, and following growing criticism of her management style by parents and administrators (which erupted in charges of racism), reporters at the Daily Progress and the Hook learned that Griffin had had similar conflicts with colleagues and parents in other school systems. In fact, she was involved in at least two lawsuits in two previous positions, and the subject of a student/parent protest demanding her removal at another.
However, while the Hook published a number of stories about L'Affaire Griffin, which cost Griffin her job and the City $291,000 to cancel her contract, Nick F. was concerned about a humorous aside that Hook freelancer Vijith Assar made in a review of the 2005 Stones concert at Scott Stadium:
"Every once in a while something would blow up or ignite or both, falling victim to the most formidable pyrotechnics the town has seen since the departure of Scottie Griffin," wrote Assar.
"In this case, it doesn't seem necessary to use her name in an article about The Rolling Stones," wrote Nick F.
Naturally, it seemed like a bold request to us, so we tracked down Nick F. at ReputationDefender.
"We're sorry," said Nick Field, who handles search efforts for the company. "I didn't realize I was contacting a newspaper. I thought it was a blog."
Since 2005, the company has been helping people clean up their online reputations, charging $10 to "search" and $30 to "destroy" potentially damaging information that appears on Internet searches, and websites like MySpace.com and Facebook.com. The company's approach is primarily non-legal, employing a kind of "guilt-trip" methodology, and they only refer clients to lawyers as a last resort.
Field says the company "doesn't bother with newspapers," as they recognize the First Amendment issues in play, but they tend to be a little more forceful on blogs.
Indeed, Waldo Jaquith's blog, cvillenews.com, has also been the target of Field's emails concerning Griffin. Jaquith says he's received two emails requesting that posts about Griffin be removed, one he ignored, the other he responded to, telling him "hell no."
Still, Jaquith couldn't help but notice the difference in tone between the emails to the Hook and to his blog.
"Funny how he's so much more reasoned with y'all than he is with me," he says.
Indeed, Field is more direct in his appeal to cvillenews.com, and suggests that several entirely newsworthy posts be removed:
"Scottie Griffin has been looking for new employment, and whenever her potential employer looks her up, the articles on cvillenews.com appear, usually at the top of search engines and are quite damaging to her both personally and professionally."
"I was sorely tempted to blog about this whitewashing attempt, but I decided to hold off," says Jaquith. "If I receive another demand from this company again, though, I intend to write about it."
According to Field, Jaquith won't have to worry about that, as the company has a policy of backing off when they get that kind of response. "We don't let it get hostile," says Field.
By July of this year, the Charlottesville School Board may have accelerated its vetting efforts. Before inking a contract with a would-be principal of Greenbrier Elementary, it yanked an offer to Debra L. Duncan over concerns that she might have impeded a murder investigation that hit close to home.