Getting an Unflattering Internet Post Taken Down
Working with sites and posters to remove defamatory information online
on July 29, 2019
Updated on February 8, 2021
The internet has disseminates information at an inconceivable speed, making almost any piece of information available at our fingertips. But with this power may come great detriment to those who have less than flattering information out there.
The First Amendment is one of the reasons negative information is not taken down willingly. Though the amendment protects free speech, it doesn’t protect all speech—namely obscenity, hate speech and defamatory speech. So, unless something posted about you on the internet is obscene, a threat, false or damaging to your reputation, that post is protected.
“If a person has an interest in taking something down off the internet, we are more than happy to help and we are largely successful in doing so,” says Cleveland attorney Aaron Minc. Minc handles not only illegal content cases such as revenge porn and defamation, but also cyberbullying and reputation repair. In those cases, the attorneys at his firm go to the source, including the website hosting the information and the person(s) who posted it.
The process of taking something off the internet is largely dependent upon what’s been posted and who controls that information. To start, you’ll have to track down who is responsible for posting the content. Then you must examine the responsible party’s policies on removal of content.
“Even if the content is true and is therefore not defamatory—or if the time-period for requesting removal has passed—there is likely an amicable way to resolve the issue,” Minc says.
Often, conversations with publishers center around the removal of content they have a right to keep up and running. If the reasons for keeping the post up outweigh the personal concerns of an individual, there is usually an amicable way to resolve the issue. For example, “removing the post from search results, editing out unnecessary content that clouds the story, or taking down pictures which have no real necessity to the post,” says Minc.
There is further an ethical obligation on the part of journalists to report the facts fully and correctly. This is especially true in the realm of criminal justice, where someone accused of a serious crime is deemed innocent. “Often, we will agree to have the story updated if it’s about an arrest, with the charges being dropped and the record of this individual cleared in a prominent location in the post,” says Minc. “As the facts of stories change, the posts about the stories must reflect these changes.”
Some websites require fees to take a post down. If it’s a blog post, most of the time amicable negotiation will do the trick. “But there are times that these negotiations turn from amicable talks to an adverse confrontation over privacy and the First Amendment.” Minc says.
No matter the post, or the reasons for wanting something off a website or search engine, seek out a reputable and experienced attorney to guide you through the process. For more information on this area of law, see our overview on defamation.