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Google Says I Put My Baby In The Microwave, How Do I Make Them Stop? [What The Tech]

Michele Agius is on vacation but will return next week. She has graciously (and foolhardily) allowed me to fill in today.

I pre-apologize on her behalf.

Back in 2007, a 19-year-old, pastor-in-training was arrested in Texas for shoving his then 2-month-old daughter into a microwave and turning it on. Thanks to Google, because this would-be pastor shares my name, the first thing that pops up in a search is this wonderful story.

A few hits down, a separate article clarifies the facts:

According to the Houston Chronicle, Detective Johnson testified that Mauldin first threw the baby on one of the beds in the hotel room. He then confessed to striking her in the groin, placing her in the hotel room safe, and then putting her in the refrigerator prior to placing her in the microwave oven.

imageFortunately for me, this situation hasn’t caused too much harm (not like, third degree burns or anything). A high percentage of my friends can process basic math and geography so, “holy shit, did you see this?” was the worst I had to deal with.

But what if I was the same age as Mr. Mauldin?

What if I lived in the same city?

In a job market where employers are looking to disqualify me for even the simplest of discretions, what if they pulled that article up and decided to skip over my resume on the off chance it was me?

What could I do about it?

Who could I turn to in my hour of digital need?



Fret not hypothetical me, there is a blossoming cottage industry of companies specializing in making sure you’re never confused for a devil-possessed baby cooker again. So many in fact, that a quick Google search of “online reputation” yields an almost endless array of options.

Now I know what you’re thinking, doesn’t this sound a lot like those fly-by-night operations in the 90s that guaranteed to fix your credit for a ridiculous fee? The ones that turned out to do nothing more than write a letter to your creditors, hoping your file had been misplaced?

Steve Henn of NPR wondered the same thing in this illuminating piece for All Tech Considered yesterday.

Henn followed the story of Pete Kistler, the co-owner of and minor celebrity whose business defining-story was picked up by The AP, USA Today, Forbes, CBS and NBC.

“My GPA was 3.9. I had a bunch of relevant internships and I wanted to go into software,” Kistler says. “By a bunch, I mean dozens and dozens. And I’m not hearing back from anyone.”


Kistler says he was puzzled until a friend gave him a call. He worked at one of the companies Kistler had applied to. “And [he] said, ‘You won’t believe this, but they Googled you and they found another kid with your name that is a drug dealer and they thought that you were him,’ ” Kistler recounts.


Kistler says he still remembers the exact moment he Googled himself. “You know, my stomach dropped,” he says. “Everyone who Googles me thinks I am this kid — I am this drug dealer. And there are all these Google images of a car crash and a DUI.”


According to Kistler, there were many online management companies willing to help him but the cost was so high he couldn’t hire them.

After missing out on multiple job opportunities due to what he was convinced were his Google search results, Kistler finally turned to a friend with knowledge of how companies accomplish what they promise.

It’s called search engine optimization, or SEO. Kistler didn’t have the cash to pay for it while he was in college. So he and Ambron tackled the problem together — and realized that maybe there was a business in this for them.

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, basically floods search engines with positive stories, pushing the negative ones further and further down the list. Does it work? Kind of. Does it sound like mailing credit disputes to magically fix your credit? You bet.

Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Land, finds most of these ads unconvincing. “They usually make me sort of laugh,” he says. “The promise is that we are going to sort all this out for you, and the reality is no one can guarantee to do that.”


If there is bad information out there about you online, Sullivan says, you usually can’t simply erase it from the Internet. No one can.

Right about now you should be thinking, “This Kitzler story sounds like the perfect story to float a startup business. A post-grad nightmare turned into a post-grad success story. Why it sounds a little too perfect.” Your intuition gets a cigar!

The story of Peter Kistler the computer programmer being mistaken for Peter Kistler the drug dealer has become ubiquitous online. BrandYourself even has a photo — a mug shot — on its website of this supposed drug dealer Pete Kistler.


The thing is, I can’t find a record of this guy anywhere. I’ve looked through the public records I could access and LexisNexis; I even called in NPR’s librarians. We just can’t find any reference to a Pete Kistler who was dealing drugs. The photo on BrandYourself’s website is actually of a man named Adam Laham.


When we asked BrandYourself if it had any records, the company sent us a link to a story about a rape from 1988. We asked what state the alleged drug dealer was arrested in, but it didn’t respond.

Kitzler’s story so perfectly connected with a genuine fear that so many post-graduate job seekers suffer from, no one stopped to fact check it.

And that, after all, is how these online reputation management businesses work. You take the story about yourself that you want to tell, then repeat and repeat it — until that’s the only story about you anyone sees.

Sorry hypothetical me, it looks like the only recourse you have is to flood the internet with enough material to bury your namesake counterpart to the deep recesses of Page 7.

And good luck with that, because short of killing the president, there’s nothing you can do to compete with a man trying to TV dinner his daughter. The best you can do is mitigate the damage and not post Facebook pictures of yourself getting tongue-loved by Ralph.

Way to go dummy.

Feature Image Credit: Libelty SEO