The internet does not forget

We all remember this event, in which policeman John Pike casually hoses down students at UC Davis with pepper spray. Not only is it memorable, but if you google “UC Davis” the story is going to pop up on the first page of results.


The administrators at UC Davis are a bit touchy about the whole incident and wanted to do something about it. So what did they do? They hired one of those shady ‘reputation management’ companies to somehow expunge the story and image from search results, at a cost of at least $175,000. Those things never work, and you’re a fool to try them.

Except…maybe they did accomplish something.

Now when you search for UC Davis, the first results are all about the university’s dodgy, clumsy, ill-planned, and wasteful attempt to whitewash their reputation.

The lesson you should learn is that trying to cover up your sins with worthless SEO is going to only change your search results to a) remind everyone of the bad thing you did, and b) let them know that you’re desperate to cover it up.

Good work, administrators at UC Davis! You’re working hard to further stain the reputation of a very good school.


  1. Rich Woods says

    I’m not really sure how to describe this approach. Effective PR? Quality cover-up? Honest contrition?

    No, somehow none of those terms quite do the situation justice.

  2. says

    They could have papered it over with stories about the sincere apologies, and how officer porkchop was cashiered for his actions and how they had changed their policing practices. That probably would have cost less than $175k. Which they could have donated to the victims…

    The protests were about the cost of tuition, if you recall. Did the $175k come out of some earmarked fund or was it tuition money they sprayed those protesters faces with?

  3. Larry says

    Here in CA, where we’re very proud of our UC system, U.C. Davis had a top-notch reputation as a great school to attend, very tough to get in. Arguably, only Cal and UCLA, in the U.C. system, could be considered to be better. Now they’ve thrown that away, turning themselves in to a sad joke. I’m not sure who the University president is but the UC Board of Regents might be on the look-out for a new one as well as looking for ways to restore the reputation of the school and the UC system.

  4. Cuttlefish says

    I dunno… about half the stuff I have written online is forgotten well enough that I cannot find it while deliberately searching. I might well be the only one on the planet who knows this particular line from a sonnet, and no search engine yet has been able to dig up an archive of the whole thing (which I have forgotten nearly as well as the internet).f

    Frankly, though, if the internet was going to lose either my early writing, or Officer Pike’s casual walk through the pepper fields, it made the right choice.

  5. MassMomentumEnergy says

    This is one of many reasons that students have been trying to get Chancellor Katehi fired since she was hired. Unfortunately, the UC system is designed to have as little democracy as possible, especially from the students.

  6. futurechemist says

    The Sacramento Bee article says the $175,000 came from the “communications department budget”. I wonder if that means the university PR division, or the academic Department of Communications. If the latter, I hope the faculty in that department are aware, I’d be rather annoyed if my department had to pay money to cover up police brutality.

  7. anarkitty says

    @Marcus Ranum (#3)

    From the article linked in the blog post:

    Money to pay the consultants came from the communications department budget, Topousis said.

    If I was in the Communications department I’d be pissed.

  8. andyo says

    Jon Ronson interviews a guy who does this reputation management and also several victims of internet shaming in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. It’s a pretty eye-opening book, and these reputation management systems do appear to work, at least for things/individuals that are a one-time “offender”. It’s not that complicated, but it does get laborious and therefore expensive. They just try to flood the first page of Google with other results which are innocuous and mundane, that match the name of the person. Once the “bad” results go to the second page, its likelihood that a lot of people will see them drops like a rock, apparently.

  9. robro says

    $175K to cover up some mistake of admin policy mavens. I’m sure there aren’t any student programs that could use that money.

    Dylan @#1 — Oh my. Public school admin working for for-profit so-called education business. Shades of ACCJC’s ties to for-profit education businesses while trying to close down public community colleges. No conflict of interest here. Nope. None at all.

  10. darkrose says

    futurechemist @ #9: It was Strategic Communications, part of the Office of the Chancellor and Provost.

    I am deeply, bitterly amused. I worked at UC Davis for over ten years. Katehi has been all about corporatizing the university at the expense of the students and especially the staff. I will be thrilled if they send her packing.

  11. andyo says

    #13, Google is pretty smart about people trying to game the system, it’s an arms race. Neither party can divulge what exactly they’re doing and it is very laborious especially when you’re dealing with how many hundreds of thousands or millions of results. For instance, the “alternate” meaning of Santorum is still on several results on the first page, including the first one. I think for a time it went down a bit, but not to the 2nd page, and the guy was running for President.

    The way Ronson writes it, some of these people even didn’t deserve nearly the internet shaming they got. Arguably some of them didn’t deserve any shaming (like the woman who pretended to shout in a picture at a veterans’ memorial in front of a sign that said to keep quiet).

  12. Dark Jaguar says

    This is something we’ve known about since the 90’s…

    But as much as I love to trumpet this myself, it’s not entirely true. The internet, in this case it’s users, can and do forget things all the time. The internet takes the 15 minutes of fame thing pretty literally, and give any issue a few weeks and everyone’s already moved on to the next outrage. I’m not saying that “outrage culture” is a thing, but I am saying it’s a bit off-putting when one day everyone’s talking about Ferguson, and the next day everyone’s moved on to some stupid thing a celebrity said on the Twitterspace. Not that what the celebrity said isn’t stupid, but those people are still dead, and I am not sure anything’s really changed for the Ferganites.

    It’s important not to dismiss issues as “not important”, but what I’ve found online is that the entire human sphere of awareness acts as one simultaneously on social networks, and I mean that in terms of raw thinking power ALSO seemingly acting as one individual very internally inconsistent human. See: that Microsoft AI that ultimately functioned as a mirror of humanity’s worst parts reflected back at us.

    I have no idea what I’m saying any more. I think I’m just rambling.

  13. ck, the Irate Lump says

    The thing is, the internet forgets all the time. Things pass out of the public’s consciousness and links rot while not being attended to and old stories disappear constantly. Trying to force the internet forget something specific is a little different, though. Like telling someone to try hard not to think of a specific word, efforts to block something out only tend to reinforce and amplify it.

  14. Ichthyic says

    You’re working hard to further stain the reputation of a very good school.

    and it IS a very good school, especially in the sciences.

    It has come a LONG way from its agricultural roots. I would have no qualms recommending it for either undergrad or grad studies.

    administrations in ALL of the UCs are absolute crap and always have been. But hey.. it gives you something to engage as a student activist when you get there… consider it practice for the rest of the world.