The repercussions of negative, false and defamatory content on the web are profound for businesses and individuals, especially when it ranks highly on Google.
This article explores nine of the most effective and commonly used strategies for removing negative content from the web.
The effectiveness of these methods can vary due to changes in laws, search engine policies and your specific situation.
Most websites that host user-generated content (UGC), including Facebook, Reddit, and Yelp, have a defined set of community guidelines. They clarify what type of content is allowed or prohibited on their website.
To find the community guidelines of a specific website, a simple “[site name] + community guidelines” search on Google should bring them up.
You can flag or report the content for removal if the negative content violates one of their policies. You will typically hear back from the website’s content moderation team within a few days.
Due to a law known as the Communications Decency Act (Section 230a), website owners that host user-generated content have no legal liability for what is published on their website.
All U.S.-based websites hosting UGC can decide what will or will not be removed from their website. If your removal request is denied, the best option will be to respond and/or suppress the harmful content.
Dig deeper: A quick guide to managing your online reputation
2. Personally identifiable information (PII) and doxxing
Notifying Google about false and defamatory content containing personal information can result in removing the links from search results.
Below is a list of all the types of personal information Google will consider removing from their search results:
- Confidential government identification.
- Identification numbers (e.g., U.S. Social Security number).
- Bank account numbers.
- Credit card numbers.
- Images of handwritten signatures.
- Images of ID docs.
- Highly personal, restricted, and official records (e.g., medical records).
- Personal contact info (e.g., physical addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses).
- Confidential login credentials.
Here are Google’s instructions for requesting the removal of personally identifiable information.
Dig deeper: How to repair your Google search results and reclaim your online reputation
3. Copyright infringement
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a federal law designed to tackle the issue of copyright infringement. It comes into play when your copyrighted content is posted on a website without consent.
Website owners take copyright laws in the United States seriously given the potential legal liability they face if they do not expeditiously disable access to the infringing content.
If a website does not adhere to a DMCA notice, you can submit a copyright infringement notice to the website’s hosting provider, like GoDaddy, or Google. If Google approves it, they will permanently remove the link hosting the infringement content from Google search results.
Mediation can be an effective method for content removal.
When publishers of negative content can delete the negative content and they can be contacted, a third-party mediator or reputation management expert can work to facilitate the removal of negative content.
This must be handled carefully, as the wrong approach can potentially worsen the situation.
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For specific situations, there may be an opportunity to negotiate with the publisher of the negative content and get them to revise or remove it.
For example, if your customer leaves a negative review, speaking with them about the situation and finding an amicable solution may be the best way forward.
This could entail offering your customer a full refund for your service and politely requesting they edit or remove their initial negative feedback.
Dig deeper: How to respond to negative reviews harming your company’s reputation
6. Reporting exploitative removal practices
Google has a policy to remove content from their search results if you are the victim of exploitative removal practices.
If you find yourself on a website that contains negative content about you, and the website owner demands payment to remove it, you can contact Google to remove it.
For the removal request to be considered, the following requirements must be met:
- You are the subject of the content in the submitted URL.
- The website is not a business review site.
- The website has removal practices that necessitate payment to the site or other agencies to have content removed.
7. Sexually explicit content
Google has implemented measures to protect users from the distribution of non-consensual and nude images. Victims of such content can request the removal of the images or videos from search results by submitting a removal request.
Websites commonly highlight the importance of consent in distributing explicit material and may offer a reporting mechanism for addressing such content.
Another disturbing trend is the rise of AI-generated “fake pornography,” where people use machine learning technology to put someone’s face in an explicit video without their permission. Google has created a reporting form to remove this type of content.
8. The right to be forgotten
In 2014, the European Union passed a ruling known as the “right to be forgotten.” EU citizens have the right to request the removal of content related to their name if it is “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant, or excessive.”
This has led to over a million EU citizens requesting to remove content from their Google search results. Unfortunately, in the United States, such a law does not exist at this time.
9. Court order
As a last resort, legal strategies may be available for removing negative content from the web. One approach to eliminate negative and defamatory content from Google involves obtaining a court order.
When a website receives a court order declaring the hosted content defamatory, they are required by law to remove it. If the website does not respond to the request, you can submit the court order to Google’s legal department, and they will remove the link from search results.
It’s important to consider the public exposure and legal fees incurred from filing a defamation lawsuit, which is the first step in potentially obtaining a court order.
Protect your brand from harmful online content
Removing negative or harmful content on the Internet is possible depending on your circumstances.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of content negatively impacting your reputation, there is no need to panic.
Even if removing the content is impossible, there will always be alternate strategies to mitigate the damage and visibility of the negative results.
Dig deeper: A 3-phased approach to proactive online reputation management
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.