These fake news stories and headlines have begun to rapidly take over Facebook newsfeeds and Google search results two places many internet users have gone to and relied on in the past for their news and information. Facebook and Google have become two of the largest and most popular sites on the internet with billions of visitors and active users each day. If these two major platforms are struggling with fake news and information overload then it is likely other areas of the internet are dealing with similar issues. And since the internet has become nearly everyone’s go-to source for information, this is certainly a problem that cannot be ignored.
On the same theme as fake news, increasing numbers of fake online profiles, or “catfishes”, have also started to take the internet by storm. These profiles might include spam accounts, robots, or profiles with made up information including age and gender. Profiles with fake or misleading information can negatively affect user experience as well as hinder online safety.The first question many individuals ask is how these fake news sites and articles are gaining so much traction and visibility.
While this question is quite complicated, the simple answer is that the content blends in, appearing alongside many legitimate news pieces and articles as we scroll through social media feeds and web searches. Additionally, tricks like clickbait titles and exaggerated descriptions are causing online users to share, like, and comment on these articles without reading them all the way through or taking the time to see if they are coming from validated sources. When other users see such high numbers for shares, likes, comments, and views, they tend to believe the article must be worth viewing, reading, and sharing themselves. This creates a never ending cycle and allows these fake news sites to rank high in search results.
When it comes to fighting a damaging or personal search result online, the end-game is usually to prevent people from seeing that result.
While suppression, de-indexing and deletion may ultimately share this desired outcome, these are all unique solutions.
When it comes to removal requests, search engines often focus on de-indexing the offending pages.
Search engines don’t usually “delete” the site from existence then remove every trace of the unfavorable content. This terminology is helpful to understand when removing Google search results, so you know what exactly is happening.
Instead, the search engines are preventing the content from coming up as a search result. Think of it like removing a house from all maps.
The house still exists, but you can’t see it on a map.
Similarly, the process of de-indexing a Google search result means that the actual webpage still exists, but you won’t find it when you search for it on that search engine.
While de-indexing is a great way to reduce the chances that people will see this content, the reality is that even when a site is de-indexed, the source webpage is still accessible, and still a potential threat.
Deletion from Page
In terms of truly deleting the source of the problematic content, it’s possible, but depends largely on the webmaster or owner of the site.
If this webmaster is responsive, cooperative, or legally compelled, they have the ability to delete the page or site in question.
Once the site or page is deleted, search engines will eventually realize that this page no longer exists and exclude the address from search results.
While both are great in the long-term, there are of course some disadvantages.
Neither site nor search engine removal guarantees the complete elimination of the personal content. Even after content is gone from the site or search engines, it’s still possible for people to access it on a cached version of the site. The information could even pop up on another site if the information was saved or if a screenshot was taken at some point.
Even if this content is removed from the original site, there’s always the chance that it could make a grand re-entry somewhere else online. As you can see, removing Google search results isn’t as straightforward as it seems.
What is “suppression”, you may ask. Suppression refers to the process of properties that you control surrounding and overwhelming negative search results for your name. The goal is for the properties that you control to ultimately overtake the private results in search rankings so that searchers are less likely to see the unwanted results. We’ll go more into brand-building and suppression in Part III.
Now that you have a better understanding of what removal means, consider the different approaches that you can take to get rid of this unwanted content online!
We’ve included the full list of options for Google Search removal below:
For copyrighted Works – The Digital Millennium Copyright Act
In the US, search engines like Google follow the rules from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Former President Bill Clinton signed this into law in 1998 to discourage the, “production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted works”.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act also, “criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself.”
This law increases the penalties for copyright infringement online for users, but limits the liability of internet service providers and similar intermediaries. This is one of the most important things to note about the DMCA, as a US citizen dealing with a personal Google search result.
Even so, search engines are still responsible for following all the rules outlined in this act.
When it comes to copyright ownership, remember that the DMCA gives the established owner the exclusive right to use the work. But there are, of course, exceptions.
For sensitive personal information
In addition to adhering to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, search engines like Google also de-index sensitive information for US-based users.
“Sensitive information” usually refers to credit card & social security numbers.
If a site publishes information that could easily lead to identity theft or financial harm, you have grounds for removal.
But, information like your mailing address does not fall under this category.
Remember, if you could find the offending content on a government website, you probably can’t remove it with a search engine takedown request.
Search engines like Google also honor requests to remove revenge porn and child sexual abuse imagery.
To learn more about what Google considers to be “sensitive information”, visit Google’s help forum.
The right to be forgotten
The “Right to be Forgotten” expands the types of search result removal requests that Google and other search engines will honor.
However, this ruling only applies to people living in the EU and Argentina.
If you live in a territory that complies with the Right to be Forgotten, your chances of a successful removal request increase significantly.
But, there are still certain rules that govern whether or not your case fits the criteria for removal.
To learn more about these standards, visit this factsheet on that court ruling.
Remove what you control
While this may seem obvious, sometimes the most damaging information out there is actually information that you control. The issue of needing to remove personal information from Google Search is self-inflicted more often than you might think.
Whether it’s a controversial tweet, a less than professional Facebook image, or a comment that raises eyebrows, you may be your own worst enemy.
This also means that you have more power than you think.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to personal information online. Seemingly small steps of prevention will keep you from having to remove information personal information from Google later on down the road.
Look at prevention as a new mindset that eliminates the need for removal from Google Search services in the future.
The best way to approach information removal from Google Search, is to prevent it from showing up online in the first place. If you’re dealing with a specific incident right now, this adjustment in your mindset may seem like it’s too little too late, but you’re helping out your future self!
When it comes to prevention, ask yourself the following questions:
What do I want my personal brand to look like?
Before you frantically search for a Google search result removal silver bullet, take a second to breathe and reflect on what you want to see about yourself online. Set aside some time to come up with your personal mission statement.
Focus on your core values and professional objectives. Once you identify these, you’ll be able to come up with ways to translate that to an online brand. After outlining your personal mission statement, take a look at people that you admire online.
Producers of fake content do so for a variety of reasons. Mainly because it has continued to have such a great effect. High view counts and rankings lead to higher ad revenue and users visiting their website, leading to a greater potential for people to buy their products and view other content on their sites.
Because of these benefits found within the current system, fake news will not go away until those who create it no longer see a desired, profitable outcome.