Published Published February 28, 2024
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How to remove negative info from the Internet in 2024

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Understanding negative content

Negative content is any content that is unfavorable, detrimental, or damaging to an individual’s or business’s reputation. It comes in many forms, including:

  • Misleading information: Factual inaccuracies or misrepresentations about you or your business online
  • Defamatory statements: Defamation refers to false statements or fake content that damages your online reputation, generally categorized as slander (spoken) and libel (written)
  • Cyberbullying: When someone posts embarrassing or threatening information about you or attacks you in social forums
  • Intimate photos and videos: Private photos and videos, especially if they were nonconsensual or unintentionally leaked online
  • Court and criminal records: Content doesn’t need to be false information; even accurate information such as your court and criminal records are considered negative content when they depict you in an unfavorable light or otherwise jeopardize your online reputation
  • Intellectual property: If you own a business or you’re a writer, artist, musician, or inventor, you likely have copyrighted works or other intellectual property rights. When this information is published or distributed without your consent, it’s considered negative
  • Negative search results: When Google search displays negative information about you from other sources, typically when someone searches for your name or business online
  • Personally Identifiable Information (PII): PII includes sensitive, personal, and private information about you, including your name and contact information, Social Security and driver’s license numbers, demographics, interests, hobbies, religious and political affiliations, credit card info, financial information, login credentials, and property and vehicle records. When this information is published online, it’s considered negative

Negative content can be derived from many sources, including:

  • Social media posts
  • Online reviews, comments, and other negative feedback posted online
  • News articles
  • Online forums
  • Public records, especially in the case of criminal records, mugshots, and court proceedings
  • Online comments
  • Shaming websites
  • Data brokers
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Negative content can have a significant impact on your life. For example, you could:

  • Lose your job, employment opportunities, or college admission over something you said (or that was said about you) online
  • Lose customers and business revenue over bad reviews, comments, or articles that damage your company’s reputation, even if they are false or misleading
  • Have your intimate photos exposed to friends, family members, and coworkers
  • Face online harassment, real-life stalking, or even violence in response to inaccurate information posted about you

Consider these recent stories and statistics:

  • A Florida woman who sent a private photo via Instagram was blackmailed and threatened with exposure to her coworkers, friends, and family members, a crime known as sextortion. The blackmailer eventually sent the photo to the woman’s father (News Channel 8 NBC)
  • A woman was fired three times in a year for posting about her work on TikTok, even though she didn’t speak poorly about her employers or coworkers (Distractify)
  • A single negative review can decrease the chance of a customer making a purchase by as much as 42% (INSEAD)
  • More than 4 negative reviews can reduce business sales by as much as 70% (Fast Company)

These real-life examples and insights underscore why it’s so critical to remove negative information and protect your online reputation.

Methods to remove negative content online

Here are eleven proven techniques you can use to remove negative online content.

1. Contact the website or platform hosting the content

Consider contacting the website or platform that’s hosting the content and making a sincere request for removal. Depending on the circumstances, it might be best to begin with a positive approach – sometimes referred to as an editorial request – then become more insisting if they do not honor your original request. If there’s a legal basis for removal, you should mention that as well.

The pros to contacting the website or platform first are that it’s easy, free, and often fast – provided they comply. Potential cons are that they could ignore you or even retaliate by drawing public attention to your request. Unscrupulous sites could even blackmail you, especially if the offending content is private or intimate in nature. Be sure to evaluate the website or platform thoroughly before contacting them.

2. Delete your profiles from data brokers

Data brokers collect information about you from various sources, then organize it into profiles and share them online. Also called people-search sites, they’re often the first thing others see when searching your name – including prospective employers, colleges, and dates.

They contribute to negative content in numerous ways, including publishing your:

  • Contact information
  • Legal name and aliases
  • Demographics
  • Criminal records and mugshots
  • Legal charges, often denoting simple traffic tickets as criminal activity
  • Images and videos
  • Credit score range and financial information
  • Location data
  • Political and religious affiliations
  • Motor vehicle records

The law obliges people-search sites to remove your private information on request. Each has its own opt-out process, though it typically involves locating the website’s opt-out page or form, submitting your request, verifying your identity, and confirming later that your profile is removed.

The problem is there are hundreds of people-search sites, so it can take hundreds of hours to remove your information from all of them. Even if you do, they’re likely to republish your data later.

Onerep can help. Our service scans 199 people-search websites for your information, then automatically submits opt-out requests on your behalf. After that, we check back to verify complete removal and continually monitor each site so if your information is republished, we automatically begin the removal process again.

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3. File a legal request for removal

You can consider legal avenues for addressing negative online content that threatens your online reputation, including:

  • Sending a cease and desist letter
  • Issuing a DMCA takedown notice
  • Seeking a court order

You can send legal requests for removal directly to websites, authors, and publishers as well as hosting companies and search engines (in the case of negative search results). Consult a qualified attorney if you’re unsure how to proceed with legal options.

4. Push down negative content with new positive info

If you can’t completely remove content from the Internet, the next best thing is to push it down with new positive information – also known as suppressing negative content in search results.

The idea is to flood the web with positive content about yourself or your business to replace negative search results on the first page of Google. With a sound strategy, over time, the positive search results will overtake and bury negative search results so they’re unlikely to be seen. This is especially true considering that most people never leave the first page of Google – and only 0.63% of people click on second-page search results (Backlinko).

Consider these tips to suppress negative search results (also known as a content suppression campaign):

  • Build new social media profiles: Create profiles on the most popular social media platforms and fill them with positive information about yourself to help bury negative results. Be sure to avoid posting anything private, personal, or that could be negatively construed
  • Create new websites: If you’re an individual, you can create a personal website that promotes positive information. If you’re a business, you can add pages with positive reviews and testimonials to your own website. You can also create spinoff websites for different products, services, and books to flood search results with more positive information about yourself and your brand
  • Issue press releases: Press releases can perform well in Google search results, especially if they share legitimate news or interesting research. Issue press releases and distribute them via well-known channels to add more positive information about your company or brand to the web
  • Develop wikis: If your persona or your company are noteworthy, create a Wikipedia page and develop other wikis with accurate, positive information. Business directories and review sites are other good options for companies
  • Earn positive media mentions: Act as a source for popular media outlets or contribute your own stories to earn positive media mentions about yourself and/or your company in search results. Many major publications and writers are consistently searching for unique voices and authoritative sources, so a few quick emails can help land positive coverage. Start with newspapers, magazines, and blogs that routinely rank well
  • Earn positive reviews: If you’re trying to suppress negative content for your business, work to earn positive reviews from customers across multiple platforms, including Google, Trustpilot, Facebook, and other popular review sites
  • Employ SEO best practices: As you create new, positive content, follow SEO (search engine optimization) best practices to give your content the best chance of ranking high in search results and burying negative results. Start by determining which keyword searches return your negative content in Google search results, then study ranking pages to identify ways to develop better content designed to outrank and push the negative search results down. 

Understand that it can take time for your efforts to overtake negative search results on the first page, but a consistent, strategic approach will likely pay off.

5. Send a removal request to Google

If your negative content displays in Google search results, send a removal request to Google. Though this doesn’t remove harmful content from the Internet, when you remove negative search results, it makes it far less likely anyone searching for you will see it.

Google will honor negative search result removal requests if they meet any of the following criteria:

  • Personally identifiable information (PII) in search results, such as your Social Security number, bank account number, credit card number, signature images, identification documents, official and medical records, contact information (physical address, email address, phone number), and login credentials
  • Doxxing information (Google considers such requests if the content includes your contact information alongside explicit or implicit threats)
  • Content on sites with exploitative removal practices, such as requiring you to pay for removal
  • Explicit or intimate personal images, involuntary fake pornography, and pornography irrelevantly connected to you (such as if a publisher lists your name alongside images that do not depict you)
  • Images of minors

Learn more about Google’s removal policies for addressing a negative search result.

Requesting personal content removal

6. Remove outdated search results from Google

Google’s outdated content removal tool is intended to remove content from search results that no longer exists or has significantly changed since it was last indexed.

For example, if an image of you displays in Google search results, but that image no longer exists on the original platform, it qualifies as outdated content. Click here to request a refresh of outdated content in Google search.

7. Report content guideline and terms of service violations

Many websites include detailed content guidelines or terms of service that prohibit explicit images, defamation, copyright infringement, hate speech, and a host of other types of content.

If you find undesirable content on a website, one approach is to see if it violates the site’s terms of service and content guidelines. If it does, report it to the site administrator, who will likely remove it if they agree it violates their own policies.

Report content guideline and terms of service violations

8. Request a no-index tag

Some sites might be reluctant to remove any content, especially if there’s no legal basis for removal. However, if they’re not dependent on the page in question for search engine rankings, they might be willing to add a no-index tag, which tells search engines not to include the page in search results.

Even though it won’t remove the content, it will keep people from finding it in a search result. Then, you can focus on other strategies to suppress and remove negative content.

9. Consider mediation

Mediation is when a third party hears both perspectives, then issues a ruling that each party must follow. Though you can’t guarantee any website will be open to mediation – especially if the content is lawful – it’s possible the publisher or website owner will be willing to have your request mediated.

One example might be a business directory that lists online reviews. Even though the directory can lawfully list negative reviews, some of those reviews might have been submitted when the company was under different ownership. The directory doesn’t want to remove negative reviews, but it also wants to give its users an accurate and up-to-date overview of the business. A mediator can help the directory and the business work out a fair compromise.

10. Seek help from nonprofit organizations

Some nonprofit organizations help people remove negative content such as intimate photos and videos online:

Consider reaching out to these organizations to see if they can assist with negative content removal.

StopNCII

11. Online reputation management firms

Online reputation management firms provide a range of services from earning positive reviews to content removal solutions. Companies often outsource online reputation management to monitor mentions, combat negativity, and proactively publish positive information, but individuals can use online reputation management companies to remove negative content, too. Be sure to compare services and pricing before you choose a reputation management company.

Legal recourse for negative content removal

The law offers protection in certain cases, especially for defamatory content or any content that infringes on your rights. Here are potential legal avenues.

1. Send a cease and desist letter

A cease and desist letter demands that the author, publisher, or hosting company remove negative content based on its illegality. For example, you could send a cease and desist letter if a magazine publishes a negative article or blog post laced with defamatory content about you. The letter might threaten legal action, such as a defamation or copyright infringement lawsuit, if the negative article isn’t removed by a set deadline.

Sending a cease and desist letter is more cost-effective than filing a lawsuit, so it’s often a good first step. However, if the website in question doesn’t respond or comply, you might need to pursue more serious measures. It’s best to consult a qualified attorney to draft and send the letter to ensure it includes the necessary information so the receiving party takes the matter seriously.

2. DMCA takedown notice

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) combats online piracy of art, photos, videos, and other content. If your copyrighted content is being distributed without your permission, you can submit a DMCA takedown notice to the offending website, hosting company, or search engine (if the material displays in search results).

Like cease and desist letters, a DMCA takedown notice is cheaper than a lawsuit, but keep in mind that there are circumstances in which copyrighted material can be legally published under “fair use,” such as when it’s used for commentary or criticism.

In general, a DMCA takedown notice should include evidence of copyright infringement (such as screenshots and URLs), contact information, a statement that the material’s use is unauthorized, and a statement that the information included in the notice is accurate. You can learn more about the requirements and view a sample DMCA takedown notice on the Georgetown University Library website.

3. Get a court order

Finally, you can consider pursuing a court order to force authors, publishers, websites, and hosting companies to remove negative information. Legal action is more expensive, but it’s binding – offending parties must comply, or they can face severe consequences such as hefty fines or even getting shut down.

Court orders for removal are possible in defamation lawsuits, copyright infringement cases, and cases involving nonconsensual disclosure of intimate photos and videos, especially when the complainant can prove the content is illegally used.

Proactive strategies for preventing negative content

Once you’ve suppressed or removed content, it’s important to take preventive measures to minimize the risk of new negative content and negative search engine results appearing online. Consider these tips.

1. Promote a positive digital footprint

Your digital footprint is a record of your online activity. It includes the Google searches you conduct, your social media profiles and posts, articles and blogs about you, your browsing history, and other information. Work to ensure your digital footprint portrays you in a positive light.

Promote a positive digital footprint

2. Avoid oversharing

Share as little information as possible when you’re online:

  • Limit what you post on social media and avoid posting personal details in your profiles
  • Only input required data in online forms
  • Do not share personal information, photos, or videos in forums, texts, or emails, and avoid making potentially questionable statements on all platforms

You should also keep an eye out for anything others post about you, especially on social media. If a friend’s post includes personal information about you, ask them to remove it or report it to the site administrators. It might be a violation of their content policies.

3. Use a secure browser and update browser privacy settings

Use a secure, privacy-first browser such as Opera, Brave, or Duck Duck Go. If you don’t use a privacy browser, at least browse in incognito mode, and adjust the following privacy settings:

  • Enable safe browsing
  • Disable location sharing
  • Block cookies
  • Disable interest-based ads and ad personalization
  • Automatically clear search and browsing history
  • Consider using a VPN to hide your IP address and location
  • Install an ad blocker

The overarching idea is to make it difficult for browsers, search engines, and websites to track, collect, and share your data.

4. Update social media privacy settings

Keep social media as private as possible by:

  • Limiting who can see your profile and posts, comments, and likes
  • Limiting how people can find your profile
  • Disabling ad personalization
  • Disallowing search engines to index your social profiles (unless you’re using them to suppress content)
  • Using a nonidentifying screenname and dummy data (instead of your email address and phone number)

These tactics allow you to still use social media with your trusted circle while making it difficult for people you don’t know to collect information about you.

Update social media privacy settings

5. Delete old posts and any unused apps and accounts

Go through your social media accounts, forums, and other places you’ve published content and delete any old posts that share personal information or questionable content. You should also delete any images or videos you have control over and ask friends to delete any content that could portray you in a negative light.

Finally, make a list of your online accounts and mobile apps, then delete any you no longer use to prevent them from collecting and sharing your information.

Negative content can have severe consequences on your life and your livelihood: it can cast you in a negative light with friends and family members, lead to public embarrassment, cost you job opportunities, jeopardize your company’s reputation, or even leave you susceptible to scams, blackmail, cyberbullying, and online harassment. Follow the advice outlined here to remove negative content online and protect your online reputation.

FAQ

How do I remove my name from unwanted websites?

You can employ multiple methods to remove your name from unwanted websites, including contacting the website to request removal, sending a cease and desist letter or DMCA takedown request, submitting a Right to Be Forgotten request (in the EU), or flagging content guideline violations. If those options don’t work, you can also pursue legal avenues such as obtaining a court order for removal based on defamation or copyright infringement.

Can you legally force someone to remove content about you online?

Yes, if the content is unlawfully published. Examples include defamation lawsuits, copyright infringement cases, and illegally posting nonconsensual intimate images and videos. Consult an attorney to explore legal remedies for negative content removal.

What is the fastest way to remove Google search results?

The fastest way to remove Google search results is to submit a removal request to Google directly, which should work if the content violates Google guidelines. Examples include personally identifiable information (PII), doxxing content, and nonconsensual intimate images. If the content is outdated, you can alternatively submit an outdated content refresh request.

How much does reputation management cost?

Reputation management costs vary depending on multiple factors, including whether you need online content removal or suppression services, company size, and number of locations. Online reputation management services pricing can start at $99 per month for online review management and range up to $15,000 or more per month for comprehensive campaigns. Research multiple online reputation management companies to compare services and pricing before you decide which one to go with.

image 25 3 Erin Kapczynski SVP, B2B Marketing at Onerep

Erin has worked with and inside tech companies for most of her career, including in cybersecurity.

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