This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.
In 2012, Eater Boston published several articles about a prominent Boston chef, who responded “go f*** yourself” to a customer who had complained on Facebook about his restaurant’s pumpkin pie.
Over a decade later, one of these articles still appears on the first page of the search results for the chef’s name. Consequently, it continues to be part of the first impression he makes on people who are looking for him online.
If you’ve ever had a negative article written about you, then you know the powerful effect this kind of content can have on your online reputation. For example, it can lead to lost job opportunities, a decrease in customers for your business, and trouble getting into the college you want.
To repair your online reputation, you need to make negative information less visible. This article will show you how.
What are your options?
There are two ways to reduce the visibility of negative content: You can delete the content, or you can push it down in your search results so that people who are looking for you online are less likely to see it.
However, the tactic you choose will depend on your individual circumstances.
The deletion method works best in these situations:
- You know the person who posted the content—This makes it more likely that he or she will help you and remove or alter the article.
- The information in the post has caused you demonstrable harm—If you can prove that your livelihood is being ruined or that you are physically threatened by the content, then you have a better chance of getting people to take your request seriously.
- The content violates a website’s Terms of Service—Submitting a removal request is a good idea if the article in question meets the website’s removal criteria.
- The information in the content meets Google’s removal requirements—Google will delete items that meet a few, specific requirements.
- You can show ownership of the content—If you can show that you hold the copyright or otherwise own the content, then you can submit a legal takedown request.
Use the suppression method when:
- The person who posted the material is obviously hostile towards you: If the content and tone of the negative article lead you to believe that the author is extremely hostile towards you, then you should avoid emailing him or her with a takedown request. Doing so often just encourages the person to double his or her efforts to smear you online.
- The website the content is posted on has a “no removals” policy: In these cases, sending removal requests will be a waste of time.
- Your removal requests have been ignored or declined: If you have contacted the search engine/website owner/author of the problematic article several times without getting any positive response, your best bet is to use the suppression method.
How to use the deletion method
Negative information about yourself or your business can be difficult to remove. However, if you know the content is false, and you believe that it was not posted maliciously, there are things you can do to get it removed.
In a small minority of cases, it’s possible to get something taken down because it’s no longer relevant. For example, a handful of newspapers are implementing Right to Be Forgotten policies that let subjects of news stories request the removal of their names and even entire stories that are hindering their ability to move on from their past indiscretions.
Flag content that violates a site’s Terms of Service
If you’re dealing with a social media site or blogging platform, check the site’s Terms of Service (or “TOS”), to see if the content you want to be removed violates any of these rules. Most sites ban obvious profanity, threats, slander, or similarly abusive behavior and have ways of reporting these violations on the website.
If the content does violate the TOS, then all you need to do is follow the site’s procedures for flagging the content for removal and wait for the site to approve or deny your request.
Ask someone in authority to remove it
If the website hosting the content doesn’t have a Terms of Service policy or doesn’t comply with your flagging request, you can always reach out to the site owner and ask that person to take it down.
However, it’s important to remember that websites are usually under no obligation to remove something just because you ask. Websites are only obligated to remove content for a very few, specific reasons; not liking how you look in a picture or being offended by what someone writes about you isn’t enough.
The good news is that even though websites don’t have to delete content, they might do it anyway as a favor to you. Therefore, it pays to always ask nicely!
Find the right person to ask
If the author of the piece is listed and has provided contact information, it’s a good idea to contact him or her first and politely explain what is bothering you about the article.
If the author is not listed or refuses to help you, you should reach out to a webmaster, website editor, or another individual who has the authority to delete the article. This way, you avoid having to navigate through a chain of decision makers, thereby reducing the chances of your request getting lost in the shuffle.
You can use tools like who.is or hunter.io to find the correct email address. They both have similar search features. Simply type in a domain name (for example, companyname.com) into the search field, and they will pull up contact information for you.
Make your case
To convince someone to help you (especially when that person has no legal reason to do so), you must make a compelling argument. Imagine you are a lawyer trying to sway a jury. This means you should be able to provide supporting documentation, like screenshots, to back up your claims, if applicable.
In your email, you’ll need to concisely describe the information you want removed and explain why it should be taken down. Focus on the facts and try not to be overly emotional. However, you still want the other person to sympathize with you, so you should frame the situation in a relatable way.
For example, if the article falsely claims that you are untrustworthy, you can explain how this has limited your ability to get a job. Or, if the content contains personally identifying information that exposes you to physical or online harassment, you could describe the emotional trauma this has caused you.
If the person you asked to delete the content is still resistant to helping you, you should ask if he or she can revise the problematic content in some way. Even if the website owner has a strict policy about never removing content, he or she could still help you out by:
- Using robots.txt to stop Google from indexing the content
- Replacing your name with a fake one
- Updating the post to address your concerns or clarify the situation
In your email, keep your tone professional and polite. Make sure to thank the person you’re addressing for taking the time to review your situation and let him or her know you are willing to provide additional information, if necessary.
Ask Google to remove it
In most cases, you will find it difficult to get someone to delete online content you find objectionable. Luckily, there is another option: Google.
Google will remove the following types of content from its search results. Just click on the type of information you want to remove and follow the—instructions:
- Images of minors—Anyone under age 18 (or their parent or guardian) can request the removal of an image in the search results. The only exception to this is when the image is of compelling public interest. Once Google removes the image, it won’t show up in the Images tab or as a thumbnail in a search, but it might remain on the site that published it. In this case, you’ll need to contact the webmaster of the site and ask them to take down the content.
- Content that violates the law—This includes images of child sexual abuse or copyright infringement. Google’s legal content removal page contains a troubleshooter that will show you how to deal with different legal problems in search and the rest of Google’s products.
- Personally identifying information—For example, bank or credit card numbers, national ID numbers, photos of your signature, login credentials, or medical records. In short, this means any information that someone could use to dox you and cause you personal or financial harm. However, Google reserves the right to preserve content that it considers to be in the public interest or that comes from a government source.
- Content on sites that make you pay them (or a third party) to get content removed—This includes certain “shaming” sites or complaint boards that let users anonymously defame or harass an individual or business. Often ranking near the top of the search results, these sites are considered exploitive because they promise to delete the negative content for a fee, only to republish the content on another URL. If your name appears on one of these sites, it’s important to avoid paying the site to get the item removed. Instead, you should work through Google to de-index the content while suppressing any negatives in your search results with a campaign of new content.
- Non-consensual pornography—Non-consensual pornography is often called revenge porn. For Google to remove these types of pictures or videos, the image must show you (or the person you’re submitting the request for) in an intimate state or performing a sexual act. Further, the image must’ve been taken or shared without your consent.
- Involuntary fake pornography—Similar to its non-consensual pornography policy, Google will remove images manipulated to falsely portray you in a nude or in a sexually explicit position if you are clearly identifiable in the picture or video and you didn’t consent to its distribution.
- Irrelevant pornographic content that appears in the search results for your name—Sometimes, pornographic text, images, or videos show up in the search results for a person’s name—even when that person has zero connection with anything pornographic. If this happens to you, you can get Google to remove this content if your name, or any other identification (like your nicknames and usernames), inexplicably appears on a page full of explicit material.
- Outdated content—Use this link to remove content that you have deleted from a site but is still showing up in the search results. This can happen when the page description or cache is outdated.
It’s important to note that even if Google removes an item from your search results, the content may still exist on the site that is hosting it and therefore be visible to viewers who go to that page or who use another search engine. For more information, see Google’s Removal Policy page.
Submit a DMCA Takedown request
A DMCA request and takedown process is a legally enforceable way for original owners to get copyright-infringing content removed from a website. It is part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which protects published content (including images, video, text, and audio files) on the internet from being copied or used without the owner’s consent.
If an internet service provider (ISP), website operator, search engine, or web host is publishing content that you own, like a picture you took or an article you wrote, then you can send them a takedown notice, asking them to delete the item that is infringing your copyright. You don’t even need to own the copyright; you just need to prove that you are the original owner of the content.
Many websites have specific procedures for DMCA takedown requests. Here are some of the most popular:
- Facebook’s DMCA Form
- TikTok’s DMCA Form
- Instagram’s DMCA Form
- Twitter’s DMCA Form
- Reddit’s DMCA Form
- Tumblr’s DMCA Form
- Snapchat’s DMCA Form
- Yahoo’s DMCA Form
- Microsoft Services’ DMCA Form
If you can’t find a DMCA takedown process on a particular website, you can track down the website’s ISP using Who.is and send them your own takedown request. Just make sure your request contains the following information:
- URL where the plagiarized content exists
- URL where the original content exists
- A “good faith” statement that the content is being used without your permission
- Your contact information
- A statement that your notice is accurate
- Your signature
Before filing a DMCA request, be sure you are the original owner. Falsely claiming a copyright is perjury.
If you are not the original owner, your best chance to reduce the impact of negative content is to use the suppression method.
Submit a removal request for non-consensual pornography
If you have already asked Google to remove non-consensual pornography (also called revenge porn) from your search results, you’ll still need to remove it from other places it might still exist on the web. Luckily, many platforms have ways to efficiently delete this type of content.
Click on the following links to see the non-consensual pornography procedures for some of the biggest platforms:
- Microsoft Services
Sue for defamation
Taking the legal route is usually a tactic of last resort because defamation cases are very difficult to prove. Moreover, even if you win, the publicity generated by a legal suit tends to draw even more eyes to the negative content you don’t want people to see. This phenomenon is known as the Streisand effect.
As such, it makes more sense to try to suppress the content instead.
How to use the suppression method
In a perfect world, you’d be able to remove all the unfair, outdated, and negative search results about yourself. In reality, though, most content is here to stay—except under very special circumstances.
A good way to address negative content that you can’t remove is to make it less visible by creating your own positive content to push down negative items in your search results. Any content will do. You could start a blog, record a podcast, or become active on social media—just as long as you are publishing something that will rank for your name.
Note: If you’re looking to disappear from the web, this isn’t the solution for you. You’ll be creating more content about yourself, but you’ll be tipping the balance from negative to positive.
Most Google searchers won’t look beyond the first or second page of search results. That’s why moving your negative content off page one is so important. This process takes time, but it’s the best way to restore your online reputation. For free advice on the best ways to suppress negative online content for your particular situation, contact ReputationDefender. We are happy to share our expertise with you, as well as discuss the pros and cons of getting professional help.
To make your attempts to push down negative content successful, you’ll need to avoid adding (however inadvertently) any more negative content to your search results. This means that you need to think carefully about every comment, link, and picture you share. Once you post it, it’s out of your hands.
Before you post anything online, think about the content’s potential to cause you problems in the future. Could someone misunderstand your tone or meaning? Could someone take your words out of context and use them against you?
Remember, deleting something you have posted doesn’t guarantee that it can’t come back to haunt you. If someone took a screenshot of your post before you took it down, then that person can still share it on his or her social networks.