LOS ANGELES — Skeletons in the social media closets of movie stars, directors and screenwriters have started to haunt Hollywood on an almost weekly basis.
Kevin Hart imploding as Oscar host after his past anti-gay ramblings on Twitter were rediscovered. Disney getting caught flat-footed when old pedophilia and rape jokes by James Gunn, the “Guardians of the Galaxy” filmmaker, resurfaced online. The studios behind “Green Book” racing to contain the fallout when a four-year-old anti-Muslim tweet by one of the film’s screenwriters began recirculating.
Is a new “reputation management” firm a solution?
On Monday, one of Hollywood’s leading media relations agencies, Principal Communications, said it had started a sister company that would specialize in scrutinizing the backgrounds of entertainment figures before hiring decisions are made. The new company, called Foresight Solutions, will rely on the cybersleuths at Edgeworth Security, a Pennsylvania consulting firm staffed in part by former government intelligence experts.
The service may strike some people as overly intrusive. But this kind of scrutiny is also logical for Hollywood. Nothing stays totally secret in the social media age — even deleted tweets — and hundreds of millions of dollars rest on entertainment personalities.
“These problems are only going to grow more intense,” said Melissa Zukerman, a partner at Principal Communications, which has clients like Marvel Studios, Imax, Legendary Entertainment and the art film studio A24. “It’s the result of a collision of two things: a new cultural intolerance for harassment and bias; and the accessibility of everything, from a decade of Twitter posts to videos taken at high school parties to college term papers.”
Ms. Zukerman and another Principal Communications partner, Paul Pflug, pointed to the furor that broke out on Friday around Ralph Northam, the Democratic governor of Virginia, following the discovery of a racist photograph on his 1984 medical school yearbook page. Mr. Northam first acknowledged that he was one of the people in the image, which showed a person in blackface with another in a Ku Klux Klan robe. He later reversed himself and has refused calls for his resignation.
With Edgeworth as its partner, Foresight will have the ability to review online information in 200 languages, scour social media networks, search court records and even plumb the so-called dark web. Foresight will offer multiple services, but its core offering, called Red Flag, involves exhaustively scrubbing a person’s online footprint and recommending how to remedy anything problematic — although the firm will stop short of saying whether a person should be hired at all.
Take the situation with Mr. Hart and the Oscars. Had Foresight existed, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences might have contacted the firm while he was under consideration to host. Foresight’s research would have turned up his circa-2010 anti-gay comments. The firm would have flagged them for the academy and provided suggestions (should the organization still want to hire him) to address the matter: Have an apology ready, for instance, and perhaps ask Glaad, the L.G.B.T. advocacy organization, to assess whether Mr. Hart’s views had changed.
“How might something be used as a teachable moment?” said Ms. Zukerman. “If you are really going to mitigate risk, you also have to take a hard look at what reparation looks like.”
Ms. Zukerman and Mr. Pflug would not say how much Foresight’s services would cost.
There are other P.R. agencies (for instance, Glover Park Group, based in New York and Washington) and social media-related start-ups that offer versions of this service. A relatively new company called Spotted, for instance, specializes in evaluating celebrity endorsement-deal risk. “How well do you know your celebrity partners?” Spotted asks on its website.
But Foresight stands out because of its partnership with Edgeworth, which is partly owned by the former chief executive of Legendary Entertainment, and because the service comes from inside Hollywood. Mr. Pflug and Ms. Zukerman have deep roots in the entertainment business, having worked at studios like Universal before founding Principal Communications with Hans-Dieter Kopal in 2006.
Despite its Edgeworth connection, Foresight will have self-imposed limitations. In announcing the company, the partners said that they would “not accept clients actively trying to avert crimes or discriminatory acts.” Mr. Pflug emphasized that Foresight would also comply with privacy laws and adhere to an “aggressive” code of conduct.
“Ethics and standards have to be major guideposts,” he said.