Many of us have an embarrassment in our past. In fact, it's a little shocking to discover that 41% of Americans have been arrested at least once by the age of 23. The vast majority of these arrests are utterly minor; most Americans also never go to jail, and many of us get released the next day.
Unfortunately, that means many of us also have a mug shot. And in working to remove your online mug shot, you may feel like you've been convicted of a crime by a court you've never been in or heard of. Here's how to remove your online mug shot.
Why Is My Mug Shot Online?
The short answer is that if you're arrested, the records of that arrest tend to be available to the public. This is not consistent from state to state; each state has different laws about what records and types of records are available to the public. However, as a general rule, anyone can request and receive any public records tied to your name, and that includes the record of your arrest.
This technicality has led to the rise of the "mugshot site"; essentially, these sites are vast, searchable engines that collect and post every publicly available mugshot they can get their hands on. Some will also post the entire arrest record; others will just post the mug shot. All of them, however, will try to post your full legal name next to it.
Why? Therein lies how they make their money: You can remove your mugshot from the Internet, but you'll have to pay them for the privilege, and it can range in cost from $30 to $400. And since there are dozens of these sites, it can feel like playing digital whack-a-mole; one site goes down, three others pop up.
Can My Online Mug Shot Damage My Reputation?
Unfortunately, the answer can and often is "yes." The problem is that some mug shot sites will deliberately avoid mentioning the context of the mug shot; it's one thing to be arrested for a major felony and quite another to be arrested for a minor misdemeanor. But to many of these sites, it's all the same.
Furthermore, it can create a problem where there really shouldn't be one. For example, some states automatically seal the records of juveniles for most crimes, for the express purpose of preventing youthful mistakes from causing long-term damage to citizens. But if the law enforcement agency places the mug shot online, then it can be copied and posted, even when a background check doesn't turn up any arrest. Taking down your online mugshot can cost you a fortune even if you don't have a record!
This can cause problems with finding a job, with personal relationships, and create a whole host of other problems, especially if your online mug shot is highly ranked in your search results. Some mug shot websites will remove your online mug shot for free if you present proof you were never tried or proof of a not guilty verdict, but don't expect them to do it quickly, not when they can charge you to "expedite" the process.
The end result is that many people struggle with reputation damage and often feel they're required to pay the site just to get on with their lives. And it leaves many wondering… is this even legal? Shouldn't your online mugshot never even been there?
Is Posting My Mug Shot Online Legal?
Everything about this situation feels a bit like reversing the concept of the justice system; after all, we're innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law by a jury of our peers. And, in fact, some states and people with their mug shots posted online are taking action. But the process can be frustratingly slow and is fraught with dangers.
For example, two people whose mug shots were posted online on multiple sites are suing those sites and hoping to make it a class-action lawsuit. They contend that the sites are engaging in extortion. However, legal opinions are divided on whether this tactic will be successful; unfortunately, the same right to free speech that we enjoy also applies to these companies, and it'll need to be demonstrated that distributing publicly available information in this context isn't free speech.
Individual states are taking action as well, but that can have its own problems. Georgia recently passed a law that doesn't ban publishing mug shots… but does ban charging a fee to remove them. Unfortunately, this only applies to mug shots posted online by the state of Georgia, and is based on public domain laws, so it will be of limited use for taking down an online mugshot. Florida's law goes even further, putting fines and other restrictions on mug shot websites that leave a mug shot up online after a removal request. But many believe that law is unconstitutional, and it also puts news and court reporting websites squarely in the crosshairs as well.
Another tactic has been to choke off the money; pressure has been increasing on credit card processors to refuse to do business with mug shot websites, and in fact American Express has cut all ties. However, getting the other credit card companies to agree has been a slow process.
So, do you have to pay? No, you don't. There are ways to fight back and get your Internet mugshot removed.
How To Fight A Mug Shot Website
The best way to remove your mug shot online is, essentially, to bury it. Studies have shown again and again that the vast majority of search queries tend to result in users clicking the top handful of links. Past the third or fourth link, clicking drops significantly. And if a link is driven to the second page of results, it might as well not even exist; less than five percent of those searching for results bother with the second page.
In short, all it takes to drive mug shot websites off your search results is well-written, relevant content around your name. Search engines index content based, among other factors, on how "relevant" it is to the terms; for example, if you have a public blog, that should be among your top results. Over time, you can put an end to mug shot sites in your results. You want have to pay to take down your online mugshot when you can just bury it.
ReputationDefender can help with this process; we'll show you how to build an audience, and how to ensure you always have your best foot forward online. Mug shots websites shouldn't wreck your life; let ReputationDefender help you preserve your reputation.