In mid-August, Syracuse police told the public they had charged a man named Joshua J. Cook with attempted luring of a child and endangering the welfare of a child, alleging he had masturbated and asked an 11-year-old boy to “hang out” in his car with him Aug. 4.
He was released on a $25,000 bail bond, but the police kept his mugshot private because the investigation was ongoing.
That didn’t sit well with some residents, so someone simply typed his name into a search engine (a common move, as 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine query), found the social media profile of 20-year-old Joshua Cook, a student at Alfred State, and started posting it all over the Internet.
The problem? That Joshua Cook is in no way connected to the incident involving the child. The two men have the same name, but different addresses and ages (the charged Joshua Cook is 26).
Mary Cook, mother to the East Syracuse student, said that as the picture went viral, people began harassing her son.
She reached out to local media and the police, managing to get the original posts taken down. The mugshot for the correct Joshua Cook was released Aug. 17, helping to further dispel the panic.
But because so many copies of the photo were shared, the damage had already been done to the younger Joshua Cook’s reputation.
An expert told the local ABC affiliate that, over time, the student should be able to correct his online reputation by sharing positive posts or even creating his own website (so that those would appear when someone searches his name, rather than the false accusations).
But Mary Cook told Syracuse.com she’s still worried that the posts will come back to haunt her son — an Eagle Scout who works two jobs — when he’s trying to find work after college. “They’re hurting his reputation,” she said. “[T]hey’re hurting his future.”