January 2015: You’ve heard that what happens online, stays online … forever! But not so quick. There are some things you can do to try to remove search results that come up for your name. Or at least bury the results so they don’t make it on the first couple of pages!
Take these seven steps to help reclaim your reputation on Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Bing, YouTube and other online sources of the world’s most embarrassing information:
1. Contact the website owner. Start here every time. If you don’t know the owner, you can usually find who to contact somewhere on the website (look along the footer) or look it up on WhoIs.net. Be really nice when you ask and explain how the content is damaging to you.
2. Contact the content owner if the content is on Facebook or other social media. If deleting your comments or untagging yourself isn’t enough, ask the owner of the post to kindly remove the content. If the content is truly private (reveals personal information) or might be libelous and not just embarrassing, you may be able to get the social media platform involved on your behalf. Check the platform’s privacy and complaint information: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube.
3. Contact search engines directly. You can ask the search engines to remove Personally Identifiable Information, or PII. PII includes your Social Security number or identification number from another country, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, images of your signature and possibly other information. See each search engine’s removal policies — Google, Yahoo!, Bing, others — as they each have their own way of doing things. You’ll need to contact all of them.
4. Contact an attorney. If the content is not true and can harm your reputation (libelous), you may want to get a lawyer involved, depending on what it’s worth to you. If the search result might keep you from getting a job, for example, or put an important relationship at risk, it could be a good investment to go for the big guns and let the lawyer do the contacting.
5. Bury the information. If you can’t make it go away, grow your digital footprint instead. The more active you are on the types of web pages that search engines love — social media, review sites and popular blogs — the more your unwanted content will get pushed down the results stack. Open more social media accounts and post on them a lot, comment on blogs and write reviews for restaurants, products and movies. And make sure to use the same name that’s attached to the content you’re trying to push down.
6. Set up a Google Alert for yourself. Google will alert you by email when it finds new results for a topic you’ve asked to be informed about, including yourself. That way when something new pops up about you, you’ll know about it right away. Note: when searching for yourself, make sure to use all the different ways your name might be searched, including with and without middle initials, shortened forms of your name and nicknames.
7. Hire a professional. There are professional service firms that do all of the work for you, using every trick in the book. Sometimes the one they trick, though, is you. Some “page removal services” are actually extortionists who end up charging you repeatedly to keep your unwanted information offline. Firms like Reputation.com are a good place to start.
If you happen to be the owner of the unwanted content — maybe you had an old website or social media account you want to disappear — there’s another process. Submit a request to each search engine. Start here and follow the instructions carefully (it’s not super easy or fast): Google, Bing and Yahoo!. Good luck!
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