Back in the olden days (5 or 10 years ago), you could have a bad day and it would be a private matter, easily forgotten. Rarely would a single bad day turn into an ugly scar, marring your good name for years to come.

But now, a simple tactless oversight, a commonplace judgment error, or any institutionalized carelessness can easily ignite into a full-blown media firestorm, leaving your name attached to it on Google – forever. (Remember when AOL CEO Tim Armstrong abruptly fired someone during a major company event? The internet does.)

Sites like Reddit and Buzzfeed make it easier than ever for total strangers to spread information far and wide, picked up by news sites, and spread again like wildfire. When something goes viral online, you better hope it is positive press – but the odds are not in your favor.

If someone wanted to connect with you on LinkedIn, and you were having a bad day, your rude response could go viral. Just ask the unfortunate Cleveland job board manager about the fallout from her one nasty LinkedIn message to a job seeker.

If you ask job seekers oddball interview questions, like how many golf balls would fill Madison Square Garden, people will post the question on Glassdoor, rendering it useless. (Not that these questions are effective at measuring on-the-job ability anyway. Google was infamous for brain-teaser questions until they found they were a “ complete waste of time.”)

Formerly private matters, like one nasty email, or one ill-considered interview question, or how you treat people at work are now public matters. The website Indeed now has more than 4 million reviews of employers.

Here’s how to defeat the Internet’s controversy maelstrom:

Assume that what you do, what you write, and how you treat people will be scrutinized and gleefully shared by disgruntled employees or scorned job seekers. The web levels the playing field between employers and individuals.

Assume that everyone you meet has the public forum of an investigative journalist, because now they do.

For more on this topic, read How Employer Reputation Affects Senior Executive Careers, or download our Viewpoint Document on The Glassdoor Impact.

This article originally appeared in the Business Journal