For all of its virtues, the Internet has a serious issue when it comes to authenticity. While it does give everyone a voice that can be heard anywhere and everywhere, sometimes this freedom creates legitimacy out of false information. Do you believe everything you read on the Internet? Unfortunately, many people do, and this could produce seriously negative consequences.

Take this post from Gawker Media that shows just what could happen when the wrong information goes out onto the Internet. Spike Lee was justifiably angry over the Trayvon Martin shooting, but then he tweeted out George Zimmerman’s address to his 500,000 Twitter followers, which was then retweeted to millions more. The problem with this action, aside from the obvious ethical dilemma it creates? He got the wrong address.

The address, in reality, belonged to an elderly couple who, following the tweet, received a number of death threats and violent acts against their house. Lee, to his credit, did eventually settle to the tune of $10,000, but the elderly couple is still suffering. Sadly, this tweet is still getting out there without the disclaimer, so the couple sued Lee again for damages sustained after the original settlement.

While only time will tell whether the couple will get more money for the nightmare scenario they’ve been put through, it does go to show that too much information without any editorial process can be a dangerous thing. Spike Lee did not mean for this to happen, but he put the information out there, and those who are late to the game and have no knowledge of the lawsuit may still think that is Zimmerman’s real address.

So what’s the lesson that we have learned here? Besides the fact that Lee should spend more time making movies and less time tweeting and hanging out in MSG, it’s that the Internet is a powerful medium for information — information that people will believe with or without any authoritative punch behind it. Therefore, any business or organization should carefully scrutinize online branding for both awareness and PR purposes.

What does effective online branding include? In general, it could mean anything that builds positive awareness about your company — it could include a combination of press releases detailing new product lines or charitable initiatives, YouTube videos with the enhanced potential of going viral, or a strong social media presence that encourages collaboration and participation by fans.

The point is to get positive, correct information out there to offset any misinformed tweets or other pieces of unauthoritative, untrue information that tend to make their home on the Internet. Don’t believe the power of the Internet? Just ask Eddie Murphy how many times he’s supposedly died. For more information about building a stronger brand online, please download this White Paper.