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While the controversy of the singing of Christian songs in Carnatic music was still raging, singer Nithyasree Mahadevan became the target of trolling by right wingers on social media when a song she had sung in praise of slain LTTE leader V Prabhakaran a year ago was dug up and shared on Twitter. In that song, she had compared Prabhakaran with Lord Muruga, a deity held dear by Tamils across the world.

Even as the YouTube page featuring the song was being shared, Nithyasree acted swiftly to take down the YouTube page. By late afternoon that day, the page showed that the video was no longer available due to a copyright claim by Nithyasree Mahadevan. Even the google searches did not yield any result. When we approached the singer to hear her side of the story, she did not want to comment, merely saying: “All I can say is my conscience is clear.”

It is not only celebrities who are targeted though; the common man too is targeted for a simple thing as a meme. Vadai Poche is a popular Tamil meme page that has attracted threats and abusive comments from people. “Whenever there is a post about a film personality, a sportsman or politician, there is going to be someone who gets offended by it and comments abusively. Some go further and send threatening mails saying they would hack the page or take legal action. We have never ever deleted a post because of such threats… A famous actor-turned-music director publicly abused a twitter follower in cuss words for just criticising his work. We took a screenshot of the tweet and shared on our page questioning his insensitive behaviour. After a while, he deleted the tweet. But, our post had already gone viral. A few hours later, we got a notification from Facebook saying that post has been taken down for using someone’s intellectual property. We had a good laugh,” says the creator of the page who wishes to remain anonymous.

In the case of YouTube, along with the Nithyasree song video, all the other songs linked to the video were also blanked out. It is believed that a copyright request may have been made to the channel aggregator that likely resulted in such an action. Attempts to get responses from YouTube were unsuccessful.

Early PR jobs for celebrities is now Online Reputation Management – ORMs handle the public relations of the celebrities.

Thanks to all the trolling and abusing online, it has given rise to an industry called Online Reputation Management. MNCs, celebrities and the likes hire people who handle their reputation online. “What used to be PR work is now Online Reputation Management – ORM firms handle the public relations of celebrities. Their role is handling content on TV, social media and websites that feature news and reviews. Many companies are opting for ORM firms to handle their digital footprints,” explains Rajendhra Prasath, Founder and Director, Mensagam, Chennai, that handles, among other things, ORM of celebrities, brands and individuals.

Rajendhra shares with us one such case, where he helped a singer from North India (he did not want to name her).“It was her first movie. The media started showing her in a bad light saying that she was having an affair with the director. This was appearing on the first page of the google search as well, which was ruining her reputation. She approached us and we took it up; we created a positive social media profile for her and optimized those links existing about her; that way negative news about her got replaced with positive ones. We almost pulled down those bad reviews to the third page on google. The challenge we faced was that news which were posted on sites like India Today could not be pulled down easily; it took nearly one year for that to happen,” he tells us.

His organization also represents doctors, among others, since they too are trolled or abused online. “We had a doctor, whose patient had filed a case in the court against him. The doctor had been in this line for 20 years and he knew he was not wrong, but we don’t know what drove the patient to take such a step. The judgement came in the favour of the doctor and we went online and brought down those negative comments,” he says.

If you are wondering how this works, the ORMs have software tools to help them. “We use software tools like Talkwalker, Social Mention, Trackur and Naymz that give us the report on a certain person or a brand of the recent posts or comments that they have put and how it has been received by the people. We cannot remove the negative reviews, but we can either answer those comments or put some positive comments so that the negative ones are overshadowed,” explains Raja Chellan of Rankraze, Chennai, which has a dedicated ORM team.

ORMs don’t just deal with one off cases. They are on a retainer basis for some celebrity clients. They leverage the fact that three of the top global brands are social networking sites and the average user spends six hours on them. The ORMs, through these listening posts, detect negative comments giving their clients a heads up and fix the problem in real time. Clients get alerts and work with the ORMs to take counter measures. “In case of videos, if they have been downloaded and shared, you cannot do anything about it unless it is embedded with YouTube. Possibilities for damage control are extensive,” says Raja.

Employers use ORMs to check out prospective job candidates. “There are quite a few things that we cannot interpret from a resume or an interview. So companies delegate the work of checking the social media profile of the prospective candidates. If we find them using offensive or abusive language or anything which is not in line with the culture of our organization, we become alert and handle it appropriately. There are instances where they would have mentioned they have been in four jobs before, but when we check their LinkedIn profile, they would have had five jobs; so it becomes imperative to check why there is a disparity in the resume and their profile online. Having said this, going through their profiles also gives us a peek into what kind of a person they really are and those become conversation starters. So, it has its pros and cons,” says an HR executive of a Mumbai-based firm who didn’t want to be identified.

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