We put together this free guide to help you navigate the limited situations in which removing something from the Internet is a viable option. Are you dealing with unwanted search results? Our experts can help take you through your options. Give us a call: 646-863-8226 or schedule a time to speak.
Getting something removed from the Internet is extremely rare. Why? In most cases, the content is protected by Section 230, which is a piece of legislation from the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that protects website platforms from liability concerning third-party or user-generated content.
However, there are very specific situations in which something can be removed from the web and/or de-indexed from search engines. “De-indexing” means the content still exists on the original website (and can be accessed from the original URL), but it is blocked from showing up in search results. Therefore, it is significantly less likely to be found by someone looking you up.
At BrandYourself, our goal has always been to empower people with the information they need to make informed decisions about their online reputations and digital privacy. We put together this guide to ensure you are well-equipped in understanding what your removal options are – if any. Before we get started, it’s important to note:
- Although removal is an option in certain situations, it’s rarely a comprehensive solution to the problem. That’s why we always recommend investing in building a strong online presence to make sure unfair, irrelevant, or isolated incidents–past or future– don’t negatively take over your personal search results.
- As outlined in this guide, most legitimate removal options you can do yourself. There are also “black hat” removal techniques you want to avoid as they can be a waste of money, or even put you in a worse position than when you started. If you do plan to employ a reputation management firm, make sure they are forthright with the tactics they plan to use. We strongly caution against working with any firm that claims you need to hire them to get something removed or aren’t clear about what they plan to do. If it’s a legitimate removal, you can likely save yourself the money by doing it yourself. If it’s not something you can do yourself, the firm may be using a “black hat” technique that can come back to bite you. If you are hiring a reputation management firm for removals, it should be because you are looking to save yourself some time and effort.
Now, let’s jump into how to get content removed from Google search results.
Ask the site owner to remove the content
It’s possible that the person who originally posted the content, or the owner of the website the content is posted on, will agree to remove it. In our experience, the original poster will either be reluctant to remove it (they posted it in the first place) or you may not even know their identity. That’s why your best bet is to request removal from the website owner directly. Depending on the nature of the website, it may have procedures already in place for removals. We recommend first reading through all the options in this guide as your situation may be better suited for a more specific removal case.
Here are a few ways to locate contact information for the website owner:
- Go to the contact page: Most reputable websites prominently display a means to contact the company/organization. If you’re having trouble locating one, scroll to the footer of the website. Nearly all websites have a link to their contact page there.
- Use a domain lookup service like Who.is: Who.is is a free service that allows you to look up information regarding the owner of a specific domain or IP address.
- Contact the website’s hosting company: If the website owner is unresponsive, or you are unable to locate their info, you can reach out to the hosting company. This information can also be accessed using Who.is.
This is most successful when the content poses an unintended privacy or reputation concern that the author never intended. For example, perhaps in an article about another subject, the author used a photo at an event that you are incidentally visible and labeled in. It now shows up at the top of your results. In many cases, the author would be happy to remove your name, if it doesn’t impact the editorial purpose of the article.
CAUTION: Be extremely careful with any website that requests payment for removal. These sites are typically employing shady, exploitative practices. We touch more on the most common types of these websites, Complaint Boards, in its own section below.
Submit a Legal Complaint to Google
Google offers limited situations in which it will de-index content from its search results (all of which we will touch on in this guide). Google will remove information if it breaches its Product Policies, violates applicable law, or could harm its users, third parties, or Google. Examples include personally identifiable information, doxing, non-consensual explicit imagery, and copyright infringement.
Get started with filing a removal request with Google here.
File a DMCA Takedown Request
A DMCA Takedown request is a product of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The Act serves to protect published content on the web from being stolen or republished without the original owner’s consent. It extends to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), web hosting providers, and search engines. The law covers all digital content including text, images, video, and music files.
Despite copyright being in the name, the law does not require that the content has been copyrighted but, rather, that original ownership can be proven. A DMCA Takedown request is a notice to a website that someone has posted stolen or copyrighted information and for the information to be removed under applicable law. Although used heavily by bloggers and marketers whose written content has been republished, DMCA takedown requests have aided in personal reputation matters. For example, removing revenge porn.
Most of the major websites and platforms have their own procedures regarding DMCA takedown requests. We’ve outlined them below.
- Google’s Removal Form – from here, you can submit a request for all of Google’s platforms including Youtube. To date, Google has delisted over 5 Billion according to its transparency report.
- Facebook’s DMCA Takedown Form
- Instagram’s DMCA Takedown Form
- Twitter’s DMCA Takedown Form
- TikTok’s DMCA Takedown Form
- Reddit’s DMCA Takedown Form
- Tumblr’s DMCA Takedown Form
- Yahoo’s DMCA Takedown Form
- SnapChat’s DMCA Takedown Form
- Microsoft Services’ DMCA Takedown Form
If the website doesn’t have its own DMCA takedown process, you can submit a takedown request to the website’s ISP. You can locate the ISP using Who.is. Many ISPs will also have their own takedown form/process, or you can submit a takedown notice to them directly. There is no set template for a takedown request, but it must include the following information:
- URL of where the plagiarized content is located
- URL of the original content
- Contact Information
- A “good faith” statement that the material in question is being used without your authorization.
- An accuracy statement that the information in your notice is accurate to the best of your knowledge.
- Your signature
Submit a Request Under the “Right to Be Forgotten”
The “Right to Be Forgotten” was a law first enacted in the EU in 2014 and applies to residents of the European Union and Argentina. It permits those covered under the law to request that search engines delist information about them from their results. It only pertains to information that is deemed “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive” and it is up to the search engine to make the determination. When Google reviews these requests, it considers whether the requester’s “right to be forgotten” weighs over the public’s “right to know.”
Unfortunately, the “Right to Be Forgotten” is not an absolute solution. We go into this more in-depth here. To sum it up though, over 44% of requests submitted to Google are denied and the content remains in search results. For requests that are processed, the removal only applies to search results in European countries and only for search queries related to the user’s name.
Submit a Removal Request for Non-Consensual Pornography (Revenge Porn)
Non-consensual pornography, or revenge porn, is a prolific issue. It involves individuals posting nude or explicit photos or videos of another person without their consent – it is one of the more devasting forms of online harassment. Fortunately, many of the major web platforms like Google, Facebook, Instagram, etc. have built-in procedures for quickly reviewing and removing this content. We put together this free guide to take you through your removal options if you find yourself a victim of revenge porn.
- Free Revenge Porn Removal Guide: goes more in-depth into your removal options
- Removal forms for major platforms:
Get Content on Complaint Boards De-Indexed with Google (New)
The web is filled with complaint boards and anonymous shame sites that allow users to post anything about anyone, under the protection of anonymity. Like all web platforms, they are protected by Section 230, so they have no responsibility to take down harmful content. Because of this, these sites are often used by individuals to vindictively hurt or slander someone (this could be an ex-partner, ex-business partner, competitor, etc.). They have become magnets for revenge porn, cyberbullying, harassment, and defamation. What’s worse, these sites use strong SEO tactics to push these damaging results to the top of Google, creating serious reputational issues for victims that may be on these sites. Victims are often tempted to pay these sites directly or pay a reputation firm to remove the posts from these sites. The issue is, this can be seen as exploitative. Even worse, after paying to get the posts removed, these types of posts are known for showing up again on the site under a different URL — or popping up on a different, but similar, complaint site.
What to do if you are on these sites:
- Deindex from Google: As this has become a larger problem, Google rolled out at the end of last year the ability to submit a removal request from sites with exploitative practices. If you are on one or more of these sites you can submit a deindexing request through Google’s form.
- Build a strong online presence: This is certainly helpful on Google’s part, but it is not a comprehensive solution. For one, it’s not clear if every single site will be taken down. These complaint boards and gossip sites are experts at spinning up new properties and distancing themselves from removals. There’s nothing preventing new websites from cropping up. That’s why we strongly recommend building out a positive online presence in addition to getting the listing deindexed from Google. This will help limit the visibility of posts that weren’t taken down or new posts that may surface down the line.
What NOT to do if you are on these sites
We STRONGLY advise against paying any amount of money to have these posts directly removed from the website — whether paying the website directly or paying a “reputation management” firm to do it for you. As we mentioned, when these posts are removed for a fee, they commonly pop back up a few months later or show up on a number of other complaint boards — it becomes a vicious cycle for you or your ORM firm of chasing these posts down and paying to have them removed. This can happen even if you are working through a “reputation management” firm. If a firm is offering to help, it’s important to ask them if they plan to have the post removed directly from the site or if they plan to deindex it in Google or bury it with more legitimate content. If they are offering to have it removed directly, they may be partnered with the complaint board site, or more innocently just unable to stop the sites from repopulating the posts. The best strategy is to deindex and start building a strong online presence. That’s why it’s so important you work with a reputation management firm that is transparent about its tactics so you know what you are paying for. You can learn more about how to choose a firm in our guide here.
Update: The New York Times recently covered the ecosystem of these websites and their relationship with nefarious “reputation management firms.” It’s an incredibly important piece that highlights the growing problem this has become.
Remove from Court Record & Legal Aggregator Websites
There are several websites that aggregate court and legal information (case records, dockets, filings, etc.). They compile their databases by scraping public court records. The sites are primarily used by legal professionals. Some of the most popular properties include Justia, Law360, Casetext, Docketbird, and CourtListener.
Most of these websites offer the option to have your information removed or blocked from showing up in Google search results. We put together a separate guide that provides opt-out instructions for each of the major court record websites.
Opt Out of Data Broker Websites
Data brokers and people search sites are websites that post and share personal information online for a profit. This includes names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, relatives, birth records, marriage/divorce records, court & criminal records, etc.
There are dozens of these websites and databases. They pose a privacy risk because having personal information online greatly increases your risk of identity theft, spam, hacks, telemarketers, robocallers, and more.
It’s possible to remove your information from data brokers. Each site has its own process and requires you to go to each site individually and follow its removal instructions. We compiled Free Opt-Out Guides for each of the major data brokers.
We also developed a tool that automatically identifies and removes your information for you from 38 of the most common data brokers and people search sites, if you prefer to not handle the opt-outs on your own.
Receive an Online Defamation Court Order
Although an option, this is a route not typically recommended. Defamation is difficult to prove and the process involves going to court and having a judge rule in your favor. This is an incredibly lengthy and expensive process that is not guaranteed to work. Unless you’re working with a lawyer that specializes in these types of cases and they are optimistic about the potential outcome, we recommend pursuing other options first.
What NOT to do in regards to a defamation court order
Manufacture or create an online defamation court order. In some cases, reputation management firms try to fraudulently manufacture legitimate tactics to remove results. They may do something nefarious like manufacture a copyright infringement or a defamation lawsuit. Not only is this a waste of money, it often makes the situation worse and blows back directly on the client. You should never try these tactics unless you legitimately can prove copyright or defamation. That’s why it’s so important you work with a reputation management firm that is transparent about its tactics so you know what you are paying for. You can read more about how to choose a firm in our guide here.