The Internet can be a global stage for smack talk.
Disgruntled employees trash their bosses in online forums. Unsatisfied customers blog about lousy service.
Rumors about political campaigns spread like wildfire, and gaffes by candidates are forever etched into the Internet's memory, even if voters forget.
Remember Sen. Harry Reid's comments about Hispanic Republicans or Sharron Angle's "Second Amendment remedies?"
Google sure does. The unforgiving Internet soapbox can damage reputations.
"The challenge is, especially in politics with a war room mentality, you need to balance that with saying who will pull the trigger on the message," said Julian Kilker, an associate professor of journalism and new media at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
"Once a message is sent out it can be copied, documented and forwarded to other people very easily."
On Thursday, Jordan Gehrke, Angle's deputy campaign manager, got into a digital mudslinging battle with Jon Summers, Reid's communications director, on Twitter:
"Not easy being one of (Angle's) DC handlers," Summers wrote next to a link referring to Angle's comments about Social Security.
It was just enough chiding to get Gehrke to respond only minutes later.
"Really dude? You're still going there?" Gehrke wrote next to a rebuttal YouTube link of Summers repeatedly saying "DC handler" and then pointing out that Summers is tweeting from Washington, D.C.
And with the click of a mouse, those less flattering posts can be seen by everyone with access to the Internet.
"Many less savvy and frequent Internet users don't realize how arbitrary and subjective the Internet can be in what it presents to them," said Mark Peplowski, a political science professor at the College of Southern Nevada. "It's not an encyclopedia, and it hasn't been fact checked by ('Jeopardy' host) Alex Trebek's fact checkers."
Peplowski added that political candidates need to get back in the field to rekindle a more personal connection with voters and minimize any damage caused by websites.
"Voters who care will begin to realize that the Internet is not their friend in this area," he said. "It's like a meddling neighbor that keeps offering advice whether you want it or not. The Internet is not all knowing."
Former U.S. Senate hopeful Sue Lowden's chicken bartering comments dominated national news. Democrats pounced on the Republican candidate by creating parody videos on YouTube and elsewhere.
"She should have defended it and shown examples, but instead she went into damage control mode," Peplowski said.
Candidates must protect their reputations by personally reaching out to voters, picking an audience they can win over and create unity within that group, he added.
Congressmen and political hopefuls nationwide have latched on to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to share their views as a commonality approach to younger voters.
"Instead of getting political news at 6 o'clock, now you have to sell the message to them wherever they are," Peplowski said. "Instead of face-to-face, it's behind their backs. It's gossip. You can say whatever you want about politicians."
The digital cavalry at Las Vegas-based Positive Searches purges the online world of negative postings about its clients, mostly lawyers and businesses. The company's website promises clients their names will be removed from major search engines within a few months, although it acknowledges that doesn't always happen.
When reached by e-mail, company officials declined to comment, saying the business is undergoing "a major expansion."
Here's how the business works: The company floods the Internet with blogs, news releases and videos about its clients, which become the newer links seen on search engines.
People are more likely to click on these newer links, which get more hits and become more popular.
Perhaps Gehrke and Summers can take a cue from these guys.
When its work is done, according to the company, the negative posts are pushed far away into Internet oblivion -- or at least to the second page.
-- Kristi Jourdan
Contact Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.