Elon Musk mocked it as the “Shortseller Enrichment Commission.” Billionaire Mark Cuban said it’s “useless.” Hedge fund legend Leon Cooperman called it “abusive.”
For the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, such attacks come with the territory. But brushing them off is getting harder in the age of social media. One online foe has so troubled the agency that it’s made the remarkable move of seeking to hire a reputation-management expert to burnish its image.
The contractor’s duties will include monitoring content about the SEC’s vaunted enforcement division on the web and removing anything that’s “false or harmful,” according to a July 22 posting on a federal job site.
The listing didn’t name the detractor, but the individual isn’t a well-known executive like Musk or Cuban, said a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified. The SEC accused the mystery adversary of violating securities laws, and the individual started assailing agency officials online, while taking steps to ensure Google and other search engines picked up the critiques.
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“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,” said SEC spokesman John Nester.
The SEC’s request shows that even a feared financial regulator can struggle to quiet someone who’s bent on using sites like Twitter to damage reputations. While former SEC lawyers say they were routinely bashed by those they investigated, they can’t recall the agency previously seeking a consultant to perform this kind of work.
“It’s very unusual,” said John Reed Stark, who spent about 20 years in the SEC’s enforcement division and said he was often targeted. “I wish they had it back in the day. It would’ve given me some comfort.”
Stark said the threats he received never went beyond online posts, though he did on occasion contact federal authorities to determine whether certain individuals were more dangerous than others.