What reputation management companies should know, defamation lawyers probably already know, but clients either aren’t being warned about or the clients are willing to try it anyway…
So your client comes in and complains that someone defamed them on the internet. You put on your Super Lawyer cape and rush in to save the day. No problem, you’ll walk through the litigation, get a court order that tells Google to remove, block or otherwise de-index the content from their search engine and, viola! Problem solved, right? WRONG.
While I sort of eluded to these issues in my blog article troubles with defamatory online reviews and content scrapers, just because search engines like Google will agree to de-index (which arguably, at least in the United States, they are under no obligation to do thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act) doesn’t mean that the content goes away. Indeed, it remains alive in many ways:
- The complaint that you filed, which contained the alleged defamatory language and or copies of the alleged defamatory postings is STILL part of the public court record and, in theory, always will be – most of which is accessible online;
- The website that hosts the alleged defamatory content may refuse (rightfully under the current US laws) to remove the content regardless of whether or not it is found to be defamatory;
- Google might “de-index” but they pretty much give people a road map on where to find the information via the Lumen Database and provide, where applicable, the supporting documents like a court order which, if people are smart and interested, they can find more information about the litigation through court records; and
- Under most privilege laws, one could write a story about the court case, even repeating verbatim the defamatory language right out of the court record, without penalty.
Indeed, if you search out a particular name in Google, and you see, at the bottom of the search results a statement about the matter having been removed from the search engine links, chances are, someone had information removed for some reason. Typically a link to the Lumen Database is provided by Google and parties can click on that link to learn more about why the information was removed and what links were subject to being removed from the search results.
Depending on the situation, this “de-indexing” may not even last that long. All a website has to do, if they were so inclined, is to update the URL and that would render the original URL de-index essentially useless. The party who submit the information would then have to go back and try again by either getting another court order or resubmitting what they have to Google again – but then it could become a game of whack-a-mole and for what? The information is STILL available anyway.
I completely understand wanting to find a solution for relief for those that have genuinely been harmed online but I think there needs to be a shift from trying to bury and cover things up to providing A LOT more education regarding these issues (why people should be leery of what they read online, ways to not get themselves into these problems in the first place, constructive ways of handling issues) and perhaps, as I said recently, come up with harsher punishment for internet defamers.
Until next time friends…
All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon. All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.