Microsoft: Social Media Reputation Repair Costing Users Billions

Embarrassing or malicious Facebook posts can do more than make users blush. They can cost victims some serious money.

Social media can help build reputations or wreck them, warns Microsoft. And efforts to repair the damage can be costly.

Jacqueline Beauchere, chief online safety officer at Microsoft, revealed that "an estimated nearly $6 billion was spent in 2013 to help mitigate risks associated with financial and time loss due to personal or professional reputational damage," in a Feb. 20 blog post. The figure comes from the company's latest Computing Safety Index, which includes data from 10,000 respondents in 20 countries.

Playing it fast and loose on social media is taking its toll on users of popular networks such as Facebook. In its exploration of online safety, Microsoft found "that the biggest risks people experienced in the prior 12 months were a result of more socially centered behaviors," said Beauchere.

On average, it cost users $632 to bounce back from a less than flattering incident on social media. In Canada and Japan, it costs $484 and $500 per instance, respectively, to repair one's professional reputation, said Beauchere. Users in other countries, including the United States, face a much larger bill.

"In Belgium, that total balloons nearly four-fold to $1,979 per issue and, in the U.S., the average total was a whopping $2,600 per professional-reputation incident," informed Beauchere.

Microsoft's data tracks with recent reports indicating that social media is adding a new element of risk to online interactions. In 2012, Javelin Strategy and Research found that users of social networks such as LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook and Twitter were likelier to suffer identity fraud than nonusers.

Social networks are also leading the 50-plus crowd toward riskier online behaviors, according to McAfee. The security specialist, a subsidiary of chipmaker Intel, said that eight in 10 people in this group use social networks. Fifty-seven percent of those polled admitted to sharing personal information online.

Adults aren't the only ones at risk. "Children, too, can be at financial risk, although the damage to their credit scores, for instance, is unlikely to surface until they apply for their first credit card in their late teen years," said Beauchere. She's calling online and game-play interactions more immediate concerns, since they "set the tone—often at a fairly young age—for online and offline social and interpersonal skills."

A significantly large number of children engage in these activities with little adult oversight. "A recent Microsoft poll showed 40 percent of parents, on average, allow kids unsupervised access to game consoles and PCs as young as eight years old," offered Beauchere.

To avoid missteps on social media, she suggests that users be more selective about whom they allow into their circle of online "friends" and consider making their social network pages private. "Promote an accurate, appropriate image online, and be respectful with comments," added Beauchere. She also advises mobile users to only download reputable apps and review their privacy policies to determine how sensitive personal information is used and shared.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...