Bloggers are usually well aware of the dangers of being accused of libel, and that’s why most independent online journalists are very careful to make sure that everything they write about someone on their blog is backed with documentation and evidence. But when someone writes something libelous about you, you need to be well prepared to fight back hard.
So what can you do? And how can you remove false information from the internet and ultimately remove that info from Google.
What is Libel?
In the United States and in many countries around the world, truthful statements about another person are safe to publish. However, publishing outright lies with the intent to defame or injure the reputation of others is illegal.
In the U.S., the victim of libel has the right to bring a civil lawsuit against the defamer. Such lawsuits are usually very expensive and not worth the effort for most people. If you find that someone has published untrue information about you online, there are less expensive and more effective ways to remove that false libelous information from the web.
Beg For Mercy
Before you do anything else, swallow your pride and contact the person who published the information. Locate the contact details on the website if you can, and send a friendly email pointing out why what they wrote is untrue. Don’t call them a liar, just ask them if they wouldn’t mind entering into a friendly dialog with you regarding the issues that were published. You’d be surprised how many of these situations arise out of a gross misunderstanding. Communicating with the other person can immediately clear up any disagreements you may have had, and you may discover that the author is willing to remove the hurtful page. Kindness can often go a very long way to getting what you want.
Unfortunately, the odds are pretty good that you may be dealing with an unstable or unreasonable individual. They may get obnoxious and rude in response to you, and refuse to cooperate. That’s when it’s time to step it up a notch.
Shut Em’ Down
Before you conduct full-fledged warfare against the offending website, you’ll need to do a little bit of investigating. The first step is to identify the name and contact information for the person who registered the site that hosts the libelous material. Personally I like the Domaintools Whois Lookup because it provides detailed information about the website. The results you get back from a whois search will look like the results below.
The two items that you need are “Admin Email,” and towards the top of the listing, Domaintools also reports the host company in the “Server Data” section as shown here. The admin email listed above is the address you’ll need to contact the webmaster if no contact emails were listed on the website.
Once you know the name of the web hosting company, visit the website and obtain their contact information as well as a list of their Terms and Conditions. Make a list of those terms that you can determine the offending webmaster has broken on his website.
#1 – Report All Terms & Conditions Violations to the Host
If you’ve contacted the webmaster and they are unwilling to cooperate, then the first part of this battle will be firing off as many abuse violation reports as needed. Your first order of business is to report a violation to their web host. It’s important that you find a violation on the web page that goes against the terms and conditions of the host. Most web hosts do not allow libel or copyright infringement.
For example, Hostdime, the web host of the offending site listed above, provides an “Unauthorized Personal Material” claim form. One of the first things HostDime will do when they receive such a report is to “Expeditiously remove or disable access to the personal material that is claimed to be unauthorized.” This occurs immediately! There is no faster way to remove a website with libel on it. All you need to do is find any place on the website where the author makes use of your name, personal information or any other “personal material,” without your permission.
Usually you’ll need to send in the notice via snail mail, so do so as soon as possible. Wait a week or so, and then follow-up with an email to make sure they received it okay, and to let them know that you’re very serious and expect a prompt response. You should notice the website go down within just a week or two.
#2 – Report Privacy or Copyright Infringement To Google
Another approach is to remove information from Google and get that web page delisted from the search engines. Google is the powerhouse of online search rankings, so getting delisted from Google would virtually destroy any chance the offending website would have of getting any visibility. There are specific situations when Google will willingly remove the site from their listings. Those situations include when any of the following are published on a web page:
* Your social security or government ID number
* Your bank account or credit card number
* An image of your handwritten signature
* Your name or business published on an adult content site spamming Google’s search listings.
* Infringement of copyrighted content like text or images
In most cases you can use Google’s web page removal request tool to submit your request to Google.
#3 – Report Any Other Abuse to Google
If the website that’s posted libel about you hasn’t broken any privacy rules, you still have a chance of removing their site from Google if you can find a case of abuse related to Google’s Terms and Conditions. Search the website and try to find examples of any of the following.
* If the site is just spam
* If the site buys or sells links
* If the site is infected with malware or malicious software
If you can identify any of the above activities on the website, submit a report to Google using the Spam Report Tool.
Don’t Give Up
One of the most important things you can do when you’re looking to take down libelous content about yourself online is to be persistent and tenacious. In 2006, a person seeking to libel me sent out my personal information to a mass list of over 200 email addresses. By following the guidelines in this article, I was able to trace down the sender’s ISP, and after submitting an official report for both spam and distribution of private information – the spammer’s ISP issued him a warning and removed his Internet access for a full week. It was very sweet retribution.
Have you ever had to remove libel about yourself from the Internet? What tools or tricks did you use to do it?