Internet Defamation Removal Strategies & Methods
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libelous content removed from the Web.
Negative content removal FAQs
What's the fastest way to remove Google search results?
Contact the webmaster directly. In our experience a webmaster will often not remove online content because, after all, they put it there in the first place for a reason - but sometimes they will. You will need to decide if contacting the webmaster will make things better or worse.
What types of things can be deleted from Google search results?
Google policy violations like child sexual abuse images. Certain financial information. Images of signatures. Confidential personal medical records. Content that violates the law. Copyright violations using a DMCA notice.
Why should I be concerned about negative online content?
What is Defamation?
Generally, defamation is a knowingly false statement of fact that is damaging to the reputation of a person or business. There are two types of defamation: spoken (slander) and written (libel). Although it is not currently a legal term of art, a third category of defamation or rather, a sub-category of libel, has emerged in recent years and has been coined “Twibel.” Twibel isn’t strictly limited to libel appearing on Twitter, however. It includes any libelous statement that appears on the Internet in any forum.
If defamatory material is posted about you on the Internet and you know – or strongly suspect – who wrote it, you have several options. First, you can contact the person and demand that they voluntarily remove the false statement(s). Often you will get no response. Depending on the perpetrator, this could also lead to additional statements – or your correspondence itself – being published.
I constantly remind my clients to be cautious in what they write in their emails or post on their social media accounts. Anything that you put out into the Internet world can, and often will, be used against you in a way you had never intended. Often a well-written letter from your lawyer is all it takes to have the content removed.
Another option – irrespective of whether the perpetrator is anonymous – is to contact the ISP, website or webhost directly to request that the statements be removed. Of course, this usually is the first step if you cannot identify the person who posted the defamatory statement(s). Always review the relevant website’s Terms to ensure that you understand its required procedure (if it has one), are sending your correspondence to the appropriate contact person, and, if relevant, are citing to a specific violation of that site’s Terms.
Depending on the website, webhost or ISP and depending on the content of the statement itself, this may result in the removal of the material or redaction of the worst of it. Otherwise, there may be an automatic refusal to take down or disable access to anything without a court order.
To Sue or Not to Sue….
In many cases, your only option may be to commence litigation. To the extent that the website, webhost or ISP requires a court order before revealing an anonymous user’s identity or removing anything from the website, your task may become more challenging. Your likelihood of success in obtaining the subpoena, identifying the perpetrator and having the content removed will depend on several factors, including the jurisdiction that you’re filing the lawsuit in (and the burden that its laws place on you as the plaintiff), the context of the statement(s) at issue and your status (as a public or a private figure). Depending on the court that you are in, a determination may be made by the judge as to whether you have a valid case – before the court will even consider issuing a subpoena.
One important element to consider before commencing a lawsuit is your ability to prove your damages. In any complex litigation, this may be a daunting task. Establishing reputational damage in a defamation case will often require a good amount of evidence. Depending on the laws of your jurisdiction, if you can establish defamation per se, which includes injurious statements about another’s trade, business, or profession, damages are typically presumed.
No One Wants to Be SLAPPed
In addition to the above-mentioned considerations, before commencing a defamation lawsuit, you should contemplate whether your lawsuit may be challenged as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, more commonly known by its acronym, “SLAPP.” A SLAPP is essentially a meritless lawsuit filed against a defendant in retaliation for speaking out on an issue of public concern, such as cases involving celebrities, government officials or large companies. SLAPPs often are filed by a plaintiff with deep pockets with the goal of chilling an individual’s freedom of speech and forcing him or her to incur significant legal fees to defend the case.
In many states that have enacted anti-SLAPP legislation, a SLAPP defendant can “SLAPPback” by, among other things, filing an early motion to strike the complaint or a lawsuit seeking attorneys’ fees and punitive damages for malicious prosecution.
Nearly 90% of all online experiences start from a search engine query. Negative and defamatory content in Google, Bing, and other search results can have a huge impact on how consumers perceive a brand or an individual. In fact, 45% of customers in the U.S have changed their mind about doing business with a company because of negative search results.
While you can’t control everything about your brand reputation, you can do your best to control your Google rank. With an aggressive SEO strategy that improves the rank of positive brand content, you can consistently appear in the top search results for your brand name. Even if there is negative feedback out there, consumers won’t find it first. This isn’t about hiding negative content. Instead, it’s about making a good first impression so that consumers have a well-rounded view of your brand. If they start out by seeing negative content, they may be permanently soured to your company.
Online Reputation Management, or ORM, is a multi-faceted concept that is aimed at creating a positive public perception of a brand, business, or person. Reputation management includes monitoring reputation, addressing any content or customer feedback that could damage the brand, and using strategies to prevent and solve problems that could damage an entity's reputation. If you notice a bad review, defamatory remarks, or other negative content showing up at the top of search results when you search for your name, your first instinct might be to try and have it removed. Removing a link from the internet permanently disassociates it with your name, and it makes sure consumers never see it again. It’s effective, but it’s hard to do. Links to negative content will be content you control or content that someone else controls. Obviously, removing content on a page you own is much easier than one you don’t.
Can This Material Be Removed?
In determining the answer to that question, there are several additional questions to consider. Has your business been affected by the content? Has there been any actual harm to your business that you can prove? Have you lost customers or received inquiries that likely stemmed from the negative content?
Depending on your answer, you may be able to convince the webhost/ISP/website to redact some or all the content, particularly if it violates any of the site’s Terms or is particularly objectionable.
Depending on the laws of your jurisdiction and the specific facts of your situation, there may also be potential claims that your counsel could threaten – and prosecute – against the individual, such as intentional interference with prospective business relations, tortious interference with contract, etc.
More often than not, a negative search result will happen on a page you don’t own. A blogger might publish a post about a bad experience with your company, or somebody may post negative personal information about you on a website. When you don’t own the site, removing negative content from Search Results is much more difficult and for those that are not familiar with SEO or internet marketing, it can often require professional help. While it’s not easy, however, in many cases removal of negative content from a third-party website can be done without any assistance. There are several ways to do this:
Contact the website owner and ask them directly. For example, you can ask a blogger to remove their post. If you can explain why they should remove it, they may reconsider their stance on your company.
Contact Google to remove sites that violate their policies. For example, publishing sensitive financial or personal information is against Google policies. Anything that can be used to commit fraud is not allowed. Offensive images or videos are also a violation. If you notice negative content that violates any of these policies, contact Google and ask for it to be removed. Bear in mind, the page will still exist, it just won’t appear in Google results anymore.
Finally, there are cases where negative content may be unlawful, in which case you can take legal action. For example, online defamation, discrimination, copyright infringement, and other illegal content can be removed. This is risky territory, however. It could end up costing you thousands in legal fees and could even draw more attention to the negativity you were trying to remove in the first place. Consider the weight and the risks of taking legal action before you do so. You can find out more about removing unlawful content from search results
Removing Infringing Online Material
Whether someone copies and publishes a photograph that you took, a blog post that you wrote or completely mirrors your webpage and passes it off as their own, you have several legal rights. One of the most cost-efficient and expeditious options available to you arises under a federal law known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the “DMCA”). This issue is so important that I have written a separate article about it here: “Legal Options When Battling Online Copyright Infringement”.
Giving Negative Content a Proper Burial
Most people searching the Internet typically don’t click through all the pages of results. They generally review the top results and stop there.
If all else fails, there are ways to bury negative information on the Internet. That generally requires loading the Internet with positive content that will appear in search results about you and your business. Your website, social media accounts and blogs are typically good places to start. Of course, beware of flogs (fake blogs) because they can get you into real trouble. Reputable websites featuring your name/business generally appear at the top of search results. If you are quoted in the media or have been published online or in print, this also is quite helpful in placing good content above the bad.
How Online Reputation Management Works
In a nutshell, ORM is all about monitoring and managing your brand’s reputation across the web, about ensuring that your business is properly represented and that potential customers are left with a great impression on who you are and what you do.