The Online Reputation Management Industry is in a constant state of evolution. It is important to note that the content removal strategies outlined in this post may work today, but could be obsolete tomorrow. One change in a specific law (See: Communications Decency Act) or search engine policy could drastically impact an individuals ability to get damaging information removed from search results – for better (See: The Right To be Forgotten) or for worse.
Below are 10 strategies (in no particular order) that we have utilized to help our clients remove negative, false, and defamatory information from the Internet:
1. Terms and Conditions/Guidelines Violations: Most websites will have a defined set of terms and conditions. Sites like Glassdoor or Yelp that provide a platform for user generated content often times have “Community Guidelines/Standards” that are supposed to be followed by each and every user. If there is negative content on a site that violates their policies, you can typically “flag” or “report” the content directly to the website for moderation. If the moderator believes the content is in violation, they will remove it completely from the website. We work directly with an attorney that specializes in getting negative postings/reviews removed through Terms and Conditions & Guidelines violations, often times escalating issues to the sites legal counsel and upper management.
2. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown request: The DMCA is a federal law that addresses the issue of copyright infringement. This is typically utilized when a client’s copyrighted photo has been posted on a website without their consent. If we submit a DMCA notice on behalf of a client to a website, and the website does not remove the client’s photo or remove it “expeditiously,” this may open up the opportunity to sue the website for copyright infringement. In the event of non-compliance by a website, there are numerous other entities (i.e hosting provider, search engines) we can send a DMCA notice to in order to get the infringing photo removed. We have utilized this strategy to successfully remove images as well as damaging posts from offending websites. In other cases where websites and hosts are intentionally difficult to contact, a DMCA takedown can be submitted to search engines in order to de-index links and photos from search results.
3. Court Order: One of the most commonly used legal strategies to remove or de-index false and defamatory information from search results is through a court order. When a website is presented with a court order stating content they are hosting has been declared defamatory by a court of law, the website will almost always remove it expeditiously. In the unlikely event that the website does not remove the defamatory content from their website, there is a defined process to get the link (that leads to the defamatory information) removed from Google. When someone searches for your name or business after the link is removed from search results, the former defamatory post will be replaced with a message at the bottom of search results:
4. Stipulated Judgment: In specific circumstances obtaining a stipulated judgment is the best option for a client. “A stipulated judgment is an agreement between the parties to a case, which settles the case. Such agreement or settlement becomes a court judgment when the judge sanctions it “ – uslegal.com.
Stipulated Judgments are most commonly used in one of the following scenarios:
– When a website that hosts user generated content has policies that state once something has been posted on their website, it will never be removed – even in the event the original poster wants to remove or redact false/defamatory information that they posted… Yes, unfortunately, websites are legally able to do this.
– When a poster of defamatory content online has been identified, and they agree to a stipulated judgment – which could be due to a number of reasons.
Obtaining a stipulated judgment is one of quickest ways to get defamatory information de-indexed from Google.
5. Mediation: We typically use the mediation strategy in situations when there is a user generated review or “complaint” type website that meets the following conditions: A.) The original poster has the ability to edit or remove their original review/complaint and B.) The individual/company has the ability to communicate with the original poster in some way through the website itself (i.e Yelp). We utilize a mediation specialist to help our clients come to a resolution with posters of negative and damaging content online. More often than not, once the original poster’s complaints are addressed, they will retract negative statements or remove their posting entirely.
6. Negotiation: In my opinion, any type of negotiation to get damaging content removed from the Internet should only be attempted by an experienced attorney that specializes in Internet Law. There are typically numerous other removal strategies to consider before seriously exploring negotiation as an option. We have worked directly with attorneys who have successfully helped our clients get damaging content removed through negotiation.
7. Cease and Desist Letter: A cease and desist letter (CDL) is one of the most effective techniques in getting false and defamatory information removed if used in the right situations. “A cease and desist letter, also known as an “infringement letter” or “demand letter,” is a document sent to an individual or business to halt purportedly unlawful activity (“cease”) and not take it up again later (“desist”)” – Wikipedia.
These letters essentially warn their recipients that if they do not end their harmful conduct or perform the requested action within the specified period, the sender will proceed with litigation. The online defamation attorneys we work with have drafted and sent cease and desist letters to help clients accomplish the following:
– Demand removal of defamatory statements online
– Get an individual to stop posting defamatory statements online
– Make the person aware that the attorney’s client is prepared to proceed with the lawsuit if the defamatory online attacks do not cease.
This method is only recommended when strong legal grounds exist, and is considered on a case-by-case basis.
8. Arbitration: What you will find with many websites that induce negative content (i.e Ripoff Report), is that they have developed arbitration programs for companies/individuals on the site to dispute the validity of a posting. The sites typically overview their arbitration program in the following way with slight variations:
“XXXX established the XXXX Expedited Arbitration Program to offer a platform for an efficient, inexpensive, unbiased Arbitration of the truth or falsity of a particular post on XXXX and the merits as to the possible redaction, removal or other reasonable solution regarding a post. If the Complainant believes that the Author of the Post included one or more false statements of fact, the Complainant may use the XXXX Expedited Arbitration Program to obtain an independent decision from a neutral arbitrator regarding the truth or falsity of the posting.”
We have found that these “arbitration programs” will range from a couple hundred to thousands of dollars – most people will say that is ludicrous, and grossly unfair. Website owners will take the stance that there is no realistic way they can determine what content is true vs. false, therefore independent arbitration is the best method to remove or redact false statements from their website.
In certain circumstances, arbitration is realistically the most effective and affordable solution for clients to remove damaging content from a particular website. In these cases, we can represent clients in arbitration proceedings or help them navigate the complexities of the arbitration process in order to give them the best chance at resolving their online reputation issue.
9. Personal Information: There are some situations where a client’s personal information is posted online in conjunction with false and defamatory information. Situations like these open up the opportunity to potentially get the damaging information de-indexed by notifying search engines directly.
Google makes it clear what type of personal information they may remove from their search engine results as seen in the screenshot below:
10. Sexually Explicit Content:
Over the last year search engines like Google and Bing have thankfully taken measures to address the issue of the non-consensual posting of nude photos online. Google’s stance on the issue below:
“We recognize that the non-consensual posting of nude and sexually explicit images and videos is distressing for victims. We may remove such content from Google search results upon request. Note that this policy does not apply to images or videos where you have consented to distribution. To submit a copyright or other legal removal request, click here.
Please use this form to report a nude or sexually explicit image of you appearing in search results. To fill out this form on behalf of someone else, you must have the authority to act on their behalf.
It is important to remember that even if we delete a specific URL from Google search, the webpage hosting the content may still exist. You must request removal from the webmaster in order to remove the content from the hosting site. [Learn more.]”
If you, or anyone you know, is dealing with this sort of issue, send him or her our way and we will help them resolve it for free.
Although I would love to tell you we have developed a magic Internet wand that can erase anything negative online, the reality is we don’t. What we do have is:
A Promise: If we analyze your online reputation issue and don’t believe we can fully resolve it, we will lead you to the best alternate solution we are aware of for your specific situation.
A Guarantee: If we take you on as a client, you will not be charged for our services unless we are successful in completely removing the negative information in question from the Internet.
Real Experts: If your online reputation issue extends beyond our areas of expertise, we will work in tandem with our strategic partners to ensure you are working with true experts that have helped hundreds, if not thousands of people with your specific online reputation issue. Every law firm and company we work with has a proven track record of success in their specialization (I.e Defamation law, Intellectual Property Right law, Mediation, Personal Branding/Search Engine Suppression, etc.).
If you or your company are suffering from damaging information online that is harming you personally or professionally, know that you do have options. Even in the event that removal is not a viable option, there are still a myriad of strategies in place that can help diminish the visibility of negative content online.
Furthermore, it is important to note that removal of damaging content is typically just one aspect of a more comprehensive service offering. We work with many individuals and companies (from SMB’s to Fortune 500’s) to put a holistic long-term online reputation management strategy in place that not only restores their online reputation, but also helps build, monitor, and protect it.
If you are interested in learning more about how we can potentially help you, call us today at (855)239-5322 for a free consultation.