The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is finding it harder to brush off online attacks, especially from one unnammed online foe who has prompted the agency to go so far as to try and hire a reputation-management expert to improve its image, according to Bloomberg.
The information comes from a July 22 job posting on a federal job site, which doesn’t name the mystery detractor by name. The person “isn’t a well-known executive like Musk or Cuban,” said someone familiar to the matter. The SEC has accused its mystery adversary of violating securities laws and “assailing agency officials online”, while purposefully taking steps to make sure that Google and other search engines picked up the critiques.
The contractor’s duties will include monitoring content about employees in the SEC’s vaunted enforcement division on the web and removing anything that’s “false or harmful.”
SEC spokesman John Nester said: “In the course of protecting investors and enforcing our securities laws, individual SEC staff members can unfortunately become the target of personal attacks online, which are appropriate for us to counter vigorously.”
The request shows that even regulators can have trouble quieting critics on sites like Twitter. While former lawyers at the SEC say they were “routinely bashed”, they can’t recall the agency hiring this type of consultant in the past.
John Reed Stark, who spent about 20 years in the SEC’s enforcement division said: “It’s very unusual. I wish they had it back in the day. It would’ve given me some comfort.”
Stark said the threats he got never went beyond online posts, but that he did occasionally contact federal authorities to make sure he wasn’t in danger.
Many of the SEC’s staff have LinkedIn and Facebook accounts, which makes them targets outside of traditional stock message boards. According to the listing, the reputation manager may work up to 3 years with compensation not exceeding $250,000.
But not everyone is blatantly supportive of the measure. Chris Ullman, who now runs his own public relations firm said: “The safety of employees and the integrity of the investigative process is important, but this proposal raises serious free speech issues. The proposal is so broad as to possibly infringe on the public’s ability to criticize the commission.”
The SEC continues to try and rehab its image over the last decade after failing to spot Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme and the warning signs of the 2008 crisis. Over the last decade, the SEC has brought a record number of cases and sought billions in penalties. The most recent and profile of which was alleging fraud from Tesla CEO Elon Musk – a charge he took so seriously that he may have just violated the terms of his settlement with the SEC for the second time in as many years, as we wrote about yesterday.
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