A poor online reputation can be damaging, making internet content removal more relevant than ever today. Having inaccurate or defamatory articles or photos on the internet can cost you opportunities in all aspects of life.
Luckily, this content can be removed if you put in a little effort. This guide explores the seven online content removal steps you can follow to clean up your online presence without hiring an online reputation management firm.
Internet Content Removal: 7-Step Guide
If you decide to avoid using content removal services from reputation management companies, here is our seven-step process to have negative/inaccurate content removed on your own.
Remember, the steps in this guide are supposed to help you remove harmful negative online content to avoid internet defamation. This guide is not meant to help you remove negative reviews from review sites (Google reviews, Glassdoor reviews, and other online reviews) or other accurate information.
1. Reach out to the writer or owner of the site
The first step to get content removed from the internet is to directly reach out to the writer of an article or the owner of a website that contains content you want removed.
Most websites have a contact page with an email address or contact form you can fill out. For websites that don’t share their contact details, you can use the Whois tool to find the webmaster’s contact information.
Once you have the writer’s/website owner’s contact details, send them a polite request for the content to be removed (and explain why it being online harms you) and wait for a reply. Depending on the size of the website and your request, wait a few days before reaching out again or trying a different approach.
If the website agrees to remove the content/web page, make sure the changes are reflected on Google Search (and/or other search engines). If the content still appears on Google Search, Google has likely not crawled the page yet and doesn’t know that the content was removed.
In this case, you will need to contact Google directly and ask them to refresh their Search results to reflect the changes. To do that, create a new request here.
Follow the prompts on the page by inputting the page URL or the image URL. After entering the URL, click submit. This will initiate the request, and your new request will appear at the bottom of the page under the Refresh Requests section.
2. Remove Google Search results
If you are still waiting for a response from the writer or website owner, the next step is to try and remove the content from Google Search results.
Google allows users to remove unwanted content from Search if the content meets its removal requirements.
Specifically, Google will remove the following types of content:
Explicit or intimate personal images.
Involuntary fake pornography.
Pornography that is irrelevantly connected to your name.
Personally identifiable information or doxxing content.
Content on sites with exploitative removal practices.
Images of minors.
To initiate a Google Search removal request:
Click here and choose the reason for your request. This will take you to a new page where you can provide more information to complete the request. For example, you would see this if I requested to remove content about me on sites with exploitative removal practices from Google.
Next, click the “Start removal request” button.
Then, choose why you request personal content removal from Google Search.
Continue to follow the prompts and provide all of the requested information. The more details you give Google, the more likely it is they can get the content removed if it is deemed something that violates their terms and conditions.
This step can be used to target more harmful content like revenge porn, identity theft, explicit content, and other negative information. This Google content removal strategy is most effective for content that clearly violates their policies.
If a website denies your removal request, there are other solutions you can explore. For example, assuming you’ve been in contact with the website owner, you can ask them not to index the article URL as an alternative.
De-indexing means the article will no longer appear in Google Search results, but they will keep it published on their website. Anyone who has the direct address (for example, “https://www.newspaper.com/articlewithbadcontent”) for the page will still be able to access it, but it should stop showing up on Google.
This strategy is more likely to succeed if you are reaching out to a news website.
4. Ask the website if they can update or change the content
If the no-index and removal requests get denied, you can ask a website owner to update the existing content to be more accurate. Again, this is most useful when dealing with news articles.
This can be relevant if a new article is published about you with inaccurate or outdated details. Editorial requests should be made respectfully. Include the reasons why the change is relevant and what the erroneous information is.
It’s also a good idea to include how this article impacts you. For example, a negative news article with inaccurate details can cause job loss, financial harm, emotional stress, etc. Include these details in your request.
5. Opt out from data broker sites
Data brokers are companies that scrape your personal information from the web (social media platforms, public records, and other sources), collate it into a single profile, and sell it to anyone who wants it. You can read our comprehensive guide on data brokers here.
It’s not unusual for data brokers to have information about you that might be inaccurate or harmful.
In 2017, a man sued the data broker site Spokeo for allegedly having information on him that was mostly erroneous and may have cost him job opportunities. And in 2014, the FTC fined a data broker for suggesting to employers using the service that certain job applicants were potentially sex offenders.
Tip: Because data brokers share your personal information, such as your home address, phone numbers, etc., they can also increase your risk of doxxing, stalking, harassment, identity theft, and scams like phishing.
The good news is that you can ask data brokers to remove the information they have on you. Most data brokers comply with opt-out requests. Popular data brokers you may want to remove your data from include Whitepages, Spokeo, and Intelius.
Unfortunately, data brokers don’t make the opt-out process easy. The exact process tends to vary from one broker to the next, and you also need to opt-out continuously. This is because data brokers relist your information when they find more of it.
For a step-by-step guide on how to remove yourself from some of the major data brokers out there, follow our opt-out guides.
If all removal requests fail and website owners are unresponsive, legal action is possible. This is a more difficult approach that requires a financial and time investment and can be stressful, so it’s best to exhaust all other options before you go down this route.
However, defamation is a real problem, and it can ruin lives. This can harm your reputation, lead to job loss, cause psychological damage, etc.
It’s best to talk with a lawyer about the online content you believe is inaccurate and damaging. They can provide advice about the best course of action and confirm whether you have a chance to win a lawsuit. This is especially relevant for damaging content or defamatory content, where, with a court order, the content would likely be removed.
7. Push down negative search results with positive content
The final alternative worth exploring is producing positive content to push down the negative content that appears on search engines’ first page, like Google or Bing.
If a negative news article sits at the top of Google, start taking your social media presence more seriously.
Social profiles like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram all rank well in Google. Producing more content and trying to get these profiles toward the top of Google search results can cause the negative news articles to drop lower.
Link all of your social media profiles together. This will help improve their Google rankings. While this won’t remove the content you want to see gone, it can help make it less relevant. A personal blog or Substack can help you achieve a similar result.
Don’t Give Up
Finding out that there’s negative information about you online can be disheartening, but it’s better than not knowing that it’s there in the first place. The above steps should help you remove negative content from the internet or at least reduce its visibility.
Laura Martisiute is DeleteMe’s content marketing specialist. Her job is to help DeleteMe communicate vital privacy information to the people that need it.
Since joining DeleteMe in 2020, Laura has done exactly that.
Creating some of the internet’s most popular privacy content on DeleteMe’s blog, writing the leading privacy newsletter Incognito, and helping DeleteMe plan and craft its messaging across different channels, Laura drives DeleteMe’s content.
Laura has a degree from University College Cork.
You can contact Laura with questions and ideas at email@example.com