Unwanted online content can wreak havoc on personal and professional reputations. Upon discovering embarrassing or otherwise damaging online content about you or your business, the immediate question is bound to be, “how can I get it taken off the Internet?”
Fortunately, there are several options available to potentially remove unwanted content from the Internet, including:
- Request removal from the individual who published the content or may otherwise hold editorial control and discretion;
- Report any violations of Terms of Service (ToS) or conditions of use to the website or other online platform on which the content is displayed;
- Submit DMCA takedown notices for any copyright violations;
- Purchase or otherwise obtain control over the website on which the content is displayed and remove it yourself;
- File a lawsuit to obtain a court order to compel the removal of content.
They say “the Internet is forever.” At Minc Law, we routinely prove that cliché wrong, removing and permanently deleting unwanted online content using some of the techniques discussed in this article.
Even if all efforts to permanently delete the unwanted content fail, numerous forms of alternative relief may be available to mitigate or even eliminate the harm, such as:
- De-indexing (i.e. remove) the content from search result listings on Google and the other major Internet search engines;
- Using online reputation management strategies to suppress (i.e. lower) the content in search result rankings on Google and other major Internet search engines;
- Requesting that the publisher or whoever holds editorial control over the content, alter or edit it (e.g. remove your name or image) to diminish the harmful effects or delete the unwanted aspects.
There are many reasons why someone may want or need content removed from the Internet. This article discusses several proven methods of how to get the content removed and some of the most common questions we receive from clients who need content removed.
Why Would I Need Content Removed From the Internet?
Damaging online content poses many significant risks to you and your interests. Those who hold a personal grudge or are seeking a competitive advantage can weaponize the content for their own nefarious purposes.
Negative or embarrassing online content about you can easily influence the minds, opinions, and decisions of those you interact with socially or transact with professionally. There is always a risk of it “going viral” and causing devastating harm to your reputation.
Removal of the unwanted content eliminates these risks.
What Are the Types of Negative Content That Can Damage Your Reputation?
There are many ways online content may damage your reputation. Patently false and defamatory attacks certainly can cause serious harm, but so can the dissemination of information that casts you in a negative and false light or otherwise invades your privacy through the publication of private facts.
Your reputation can be damaged by blog or social media posts, news articles, discussion forums, and online reviews.
Reputational attacks on the Internet are so rampant and effective that an entire industry of highly profitable online platforms, such as cheater, scam, ripoff, complaint, mugshot, and other shaming websites, has emerged. Most of these websites provide largely unmoderated forums through which the worst imaginable attacks on your reputation can be digitally broadcast to the entire world.
The online reputation management industry and related legal practice areas must constantly adapt to combat the plethora of tools available to even the most novice Internet user and safeguard against the damage that can so easily be caused.
How Long Does Damaging Content Remain Online & When to Act?
The Internet can indeed be forever, if you allow it to be. Unless you take affirmative steps to remove unwanted content, it will likely stay online indefinitely. Best practices almost always dictate constant monitoring and quick action to protect your rights and avail yourself of possible remedies.
To the extent a lawsuit is necessary, you must remain mindful that the filing of claims can be time-barred if not brought within the applicable statute of limitations. Most jurisdictions impose a fairly strict one-year statute of limitations, with limited exceptions, from the date of publication to file your lawsuit.
Moreover, should you need to ‘unmask’ an anonymous poster or pseudonymous Internet user as the publisher of the unwanted online content at issue in your lawsuit, the data points which can lead to the identification of that individual are easier to trace the quicker you act.
How to Get Something Taken Off the Internet
Below are some proven and effective strategies and techniques to remove unwanted content from the Internet:
Request Removal By the Individual Who Published the Content or Whomever Holds Editorial Control & Discretion
Most likely, the quickest path to removal is through successfully convincing the individual who has the ability and discretion to delete the content to do just that. Such individuals can include blog owners, social media account operators, news editors, forum moderators, and webmasters.
Depending on the facts and circumstances, a somewhat more heavy-handed approach through retraction demands, cease and desist letters, and threats of litigation may be necessary. But frequently, at least as the initial approach, an artfully crafted, non-confrontational yet highly persuasive, takedown request can be more effective.
This is especially true for old news articles or a scenario in which a business or professional is dealing with an upset customer or client who has posted something critical of the services provided.
However, it is important to be mindful that First Amendment free speech protections extend to the Internet. Morever, online platforms which display user-generated content have been given an added, nearly impenetrable shield through Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Nothing will cause the door to be slammed quicker on a request to remove than making threats of legal action which the current state of the law precludes.
Whatever the circumstance, it is vital to “know your audience” and craft your request to most effectively convince the account owner, author, publisher, or editor to take the discretionary action necessary to obtain the relief being sought.
This is not a simple task and it is riddled with not easily recognized hazards, so it is always best to hire an experienced advocate to guide you through the process and help you avoid negative repercussions, such as a Streisand Effect.
Minc Law Tip: For a helpful guide explaining how to remove news articles from the Internet, we recommend reading our comprehensive blog post by attorney Dorrian Horsey ‘4 Ways to Improve Your Chances of Removing Negative News Articles’.
Report Any Violations of Terms of Service to the Website or Other Online Platform on Which the Content is Displayed
Nearly all online platforms require their users to agree to and comply with their Terms of Service (TOS) or other conditions of use. A link to these terms and conditions are usually available for viewing on the website’s homepage. If the content violates a website’s TOS (like hate speech or pornographic images), you can flag or report it for review. If it is determined that the content violates an applicable rule, it should and most likely will be removed.
Popular websites and social media platforms receive an extremely high volume of requests, so there is a chance the report may be overlooked or not given proper consideration. An experienced Internet attorney may be able to escalate the matter and increase the chances of removal.
Submit DMCA Takedown Notices For Any Copyright Violations
Various laws protect intellectual property (IP) rights to photographs, videos, written works of authorship, and other media against infringement (i.e. unauthorized use or reproduction). If someone is sharing photos you took or any other creative works without your permission, they are infringing on your rights to the content.
A DMCA takedown notice is a legal demand sent to the infringing party, website, web host, and/or search engine where the unlawful content is posted, informing the recipient that the content was uploaded without authorization from the copyright holder.
Assuming the claim to copyright is legitimate and can be substantiated, sending a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice can provide quick and complete relief. However, because sending a defective DMCA notice can actually cause more harm, we recommend first consulting with an experienced Internet attorney.
Purchase Rights to the Content or Otherwise Obtain Control Over the Website on Which the Content is Displayed & Remove It Yourself
There are a variety of ways to purchase or “buy your way” to removal of unwanted online content. Although, this is not always recommended and is fact-specific to your online content issue.
For example, if a copyright owner of the content can be convinced or persuaded to assign the copyright, or allow you to act as his/her agent for purposes of sending DMCA notices, then a fairly simple self-help remedy may be available to cause the removal of the unwanted online content.
Copyright assignments are commonly granted as part of a larger settlement agreement, or purchased from the copyright holder for valuable consideration. The assignment is made through a legal document that must be carefully crafted to achieve the end goals. Hiring an experienced Internet attorney is, of course, advisable.
One trick the shaming websites employ is built into their terms and conditions of use. They make their users agree to assign to the website an irrevocable license to display the content published on their platform.
Offering money or other incentives to purchase domains or remove content will not always work, and in certain situations can be counterproductive to your overall goal. Internet domains are assets that can be and regularly are bought and sold through arm’s length transactions. The transfer of a domain can also be forced to allow for the collection of a money judgment or as a remedy for cybersquatting.
See our comprehensive article explaining how to remove a cybersquatter and recover your domain name.
File a Lawsuit to Obtain a Court Order
If unwanted online content is defamatory, invades your privacy, or infringes on your rights, you may be able to file a lawsuit to obtain a court order to remove the content. Even if the author refuses to comply with that court order, many online platforms have policies in place stating that they will remove user-generated content when presented with a valid court order.
A variety of factors must be considered prior to filing a lawsuit. Where and when to file, what claims to make and how to state those claims, and compliance with any pre-suit requisites are all considerations that require the involvement of an experienced Internet attorney. If you are interested in learning more about how to file a defamation lawsuit and the typical costs involved to resolve an internet defamation matter, we recommend checking out the video below.
Video: How Much Does a Defamation Lawsuit Cost? Cost to Sue For Defamation
Sometimes filing a lawsuit is necessary to gain the attention of the individuals who have ignored your previous demands to remove the unwanted content. While filing litigation requires at least the resolve to see the matter all the way through trial, most civil lawsuits, if properly handled, resolve through a settlement agreement or some other disposition prior to trial.
Forms of Alternative Relief to Remove Unwanted Content From the Internet
Total removal is not always practical or possible. At Minc Law, when removal isn’t an option, we utilize several other methods to achieve alternative, but still very effective, relief for clients. These methods include the following list:
De-Index the Content From Search Result Listings on Google & Other Major Internet Search Engines
Some webmasters and editors who deny a removal request will agree to add a no-index tag to the URL. Adding a no-index tag to the URL stops the content from appearing in search results on Google and other major search engines. This is a process called de-indexing.
To be clear, de-indexing does not remove the content from the source website. However, Since roughly 92% of all web searches are conducted through Google, removing unwanted content from Google is a very effective way to prevent others from finding and sharing the negative content.
If the unwanted content is in a dead or outdated link, subject to a court order, or violative of one of Google’s policies, you can submit the Google search result yourself for de-indexing.
If the unwanted content involves revenge porn (nonconsensual pornography) or other intimate images taken without consent, sensitive financial, medical, or other personal information, or doxxing content, you can fill out this form to request its removal.
Use Online Reputation Management to Suppress the Content in Internet Search Result Rankings
Content suppression is an effective strategy to minimize the damaging effects of unwanted online content. Suppression is an online reputation management (ORM) technique that involves the strategic creation of positive content (displaying the image you wish to convey) carefully designed to rank highly in search results, outranking and “suppressing” the negative content.
Common ORM tactics and strategies include:
- Monitoring and responding to positive and negative reviews (for businesses),
- Curating positive social media and blog content,
- Claiming all online profiles, including business listings (ex. Google My Business), and
- Adjusting social media privacy settings.
Minc Law Tip: For further reading on online reputation management, make sure to check out our comprehensive resource explaining the top benefits of online reputation management.
Request That the Publisher, or Whomever Holds Editorial Control Over the Content, Edit It to Delete the Unwanted Aspects
If all efforts to remove the unwanted content fail, consider how an alteration of the existing content might diminish, or possibly even eliminate the harmful effects, and craft a request to achieve that end. For example, damage being caused by a news article reporting on an arrest can be mitigated by removing the mugshot and/or name of the suspect.
Many newsrooms who have finally come to the realization that journalistic ethical considerations must evolve in the Internet age are implementing highly encouraging new policies to provide avenues of relief for the subjects of outdated and embarrassing stories.
How Long Does It Take to Remove Content From the Internet?
There is no precise timetable for removal of unwanted online content. Every situation is different, and the amount of time and resources it takes to remove the targeted content will differ depending on:
- The type of content in question,
- The platform on which it is displayed, and
- A plethora of other factors too numerous to list here.
What Type of Content Tends to Be Removed From the Internet the Fastest?
In our experience, some types of content tend to be removed much faster than others. Copyright violations (ex. copyright infringement) are often removed quickly with a properly crafted DMCA takedown notice. Revenge porn and child pornography also tend to be removed expeditiously, without the need for a lawsuit.
Additionally, content posted on shaming websites like ShesAHomewrecker.com, TheDirty.com, and other shaming websites can be removed promptly, but require the guidance of an experienced Internet attorney to avoid the significant risks posed by the profit-driven models of shaming websites.
Do not attempt to effectuate those removals on your own without an advocate or you will likely end up incurring substantial added expense.
What Happens if a Site Refuses to Remove Negative or Defamatory Content?
Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, platforms and search engines hosting or displaying user-generated content (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.) enjoy near blanket immunity. While you cannot sue the platform for such user-generated content, you may be able to sue the individual who posted the content. If the post is defamatory or otherwise unlawful, you can file a lawsuit against the publisher of the content.
If you are successful in your lawsuit, you should be able to obtain a court order requiring the user to remove the content and, further, can recover damages for any harm caused. Court orders can also prevent future harm by prohibiting the perpetrator from republishing or otherwise repeating the same content which the court order concerns.
How Internet Defamation Attorneys Can Help You Remove Content
Internet defamation attorneys, such as our team at Minc Law, help clients protect and restore their reputations in an increasingly digital world. One way they help clients protect their reputations is through content removal.
If you are struggling with unwanted content causing damage to your hard-earned reputation and good name, an online defamation attorney can likely help.
What Does an Internet Defamation Attorney Do?
Internet defamation attorneys are skilled and knowledgeable in how to remove unwanted online content consistent with existing copyright, harassment, stalking, defamation, and obscenity laws.
Internet defamation attorneys can help remove unwanted content by:
- Advising on the best legal strategy to resolve your issue,
- Conducting necessary research and identifying key legal issues,
- Crafting removal requests and retraction demands,
- Negotiating with adverse parties or their representatives, and
- Preparing and filing a lawsuit.
An Internet Defamation Attorney Can Help Identify an Anonymous Online Poster
Another important reason to work with an Internet defamation attorney is to conduct any necessary cyber-investigation and ‘unmask’ the identity of anonymous or pseudonymous Internet users who are targeting you.
Because most online platforms allow for some level of anonymity, you often will not know the true identity of someone defaming or harassing you online. Internet defamation attorneys have the skills and tools at their disposal to identify anonymous and/or pseudonymous Internet users.
Why Should You Work With an Internet Defamation Lawyer
Which strategy will most efficiently and effectively work to achieve your end goal is not an easy question to answer. Internet defamation attorneys can help you weigh your options and decide the best path forward.
The attorneys at Minc Law are well-versed in the law and understand how to protect clients from cyber threats like extortion, blackmail, and harassment. They use cutting-edge investigative and technological practices to solve some of the biggest online challenges.
Above all, as opposed to non-attorney online reputation management companies, as licensed attorneys, we are bound by professional ethical rules and considerations to provide competent advice to our clients. The ORM business can be a shady industry. Never work with anyone if you do not know their full name and physical address.
Avoid placing your trust in anyone who identifies themselves by monikers such as “Bill M.” or “Kim D.” If they will not tell you their full name, how can you trust them with your reputation? Further, do not agree to pay for attorney services if you are not connected directly with the purported “attorney”, knowing the full name and address of the attorney. You should know where the attorney is licensed and be able to look up the attorney with the governing body of that jurisdiction.
At Minc Law, our clients work directly with the attorney assigned to their matter, can video conference and correspond with that attorney as opposed to some intermediary, can look up all of our attorneys on our website, MincLaw.com, and the Ohio Supreme Court attorney directory. We are fiercely loyal and properly balance our duty to zealously advocate with the understanding that our clients require a compassionate and empathetic representative.
We Can Help You Remove Damaging Content From the Internet
At Minc Law, our experienced Internet defamation attorneys are the most highly skilled advocates in content removal strategies and techniques. We have a team of attorneys and paralegals who focus their practices exclusively on helping our clients remove unwanted online content and regain control over their online reputations.
“Dan Powell and Dorrian Horsey worked together seamlessly to restore my reputation after I was wrongly accused of professional misconduct in several, malicious online postings by a reckless and misguided activist group. They secured a public retraction and apology from the group, and Dan used his Internet expertise to identify and hold accountable the individual who impersonated me in a series of fabricated emails that contributed to this scam. Dorrian’s knowledge of the North Carolina court system proved invaluable in reaching a successful settlement that included financial compensation from my impersonator. I don’t believe there is another law firm in the country that could have achieved these results. I strongly recommend Dan and Dorrian to anyone else facing a similar situation.”
Taft, Aug 24, 2021
To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation, contact us at (216) 373-7706 or complete our online contact form.