Rexxfield

Defamed in Australia, a Guide to Cleaning Up your Reputation

by Michael Roberts on March 18th, 2014

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Internet defamation is a growing problem all over the world. If you are an Aussie, then Australia does have laws in place that can help clean up one’s reputation online more easily than U.S citizens for example. In this guide we will look at various methods that have been known to work. They may not work in all situations, but it is always worth a try. BUT, please do not act, or refrain from acting on any tips given in this post without first consulting a suitably qualified professional.

The first thing to do when you’ve found a website is defaming you, is to contact that site and politely request that the webmaster remove the material about you, explaining in detail why the material is wrong and offensive. If it’s from a blog site, seek out the appropriate contact forms in the blog’s help section to report the abuse. Most websites have a Contact Us option, but for those that don’t you will have to take further steps.

CAUTION:  Always be respectful and humble in your request, for example, in the United States blog operators are protected from defamation lawsuits from the victims of defamation in the as long as the blog post was published by a third-party [Ref]. If you are mean-spirited, demanding, threaten legal action or generally gruff, they will probably tell you to “go jump in the lake”.

If you need to contact a webmaster but can find no obvious means to do that from the website in question, you can conduct a WhoIs search for the site. You need to go first to a site that stores such information, such as http://who.is. Type in the domain name, for example google.com, and use the resulting information to contact the site owner. A lot of sites go through a proxy to keep the site owner anonymous, but some do state the person’s name or names.

If it is from a website that specialises in complaints and defamation, (except for Ripoff Report) you will probably have some luck in getting the material removed; if you are willing to pay their fees. They don’t always make it obvious how to go about this, but start by using their contact form. Some won’t respond until you start making offers, but most will respond if the price is right. Sometimes you can locate a third party that specialises in removing URLs from these complaint sites by searching the Internet for a site that will directly remove the material. Most such sites offer to bury the offending links by getting you to pay for a service that publishes positive links about you. However,  you do need to have realistic expectations. If you insist that you want the entire link removed from the Internet, then it probably is not going to happen without litigation.

Rexxfield currently offers litigation support, and social and digital forensic services if you wish to pursue litigation. Rexxfield is also launching a very conservative, and economical search engine suppression service for diluting or burying negative postings about you or your business,  this is under the new brand WeFixSearch.com

It is necessary to take the above steps first, because sometimes it does work. When you have given direct removal an honest try and had no luck, the only last resort is to approach the major search engines and apply for a takedown of the link from web search.

In Australia we are fortunate in having laws that protect its citizens from defamation. It is easier to get offensive material about oneself removed here than it is the United States, where free speech laws give unusual protection to websites which carry defaming material.

Free speech will protect those who write and publish blogs and reports which are critical of a person. But when someone crosses the line and wilfully makes up fictitious stuff with the intention of causing a person harm, or who makes death threats, or obviously ugly torment and other direct degradation, or publishes photos depicting nudity and sexual exploitation, then the law swings in your favour if you want it removed from a web search. If anything involves sexually explicit material about a person under 18 years of age, please also report it to the police and waste no time reporting it to the search engines. You should also report anything to the local police where your life or wellbeing has been threatened, or attempts of extortion have been made. Don’t protect the guilty through complicit silence, tell someone in authority immediately.

If you have a business that is being defamed, the defamation will have to be ruled as substantially untrue and unfair before it might qualify for removal from search. Prepare to offer proof of this if the need arises.

The major search engines used in Australia are Google Australia (www.google.com.au), Google (www.google.com), Bing (www.bing.com), and to a far lesser extent Yahoo7 (au.yahoo.com). A very small percentage is carried by Ask (www.ask.com or au.ask.com), and the rest by foreign language versions of the above and Baidu in Chinese. A rough estimate of the market share of each as of March 2014 has Google Australia at 78%, Google 13%, Bing 6%, Yahoo 1-2%, then the rest. We will ignore Google for the time being, because it is very difficult to get results removed from it because it is based in the US, and will describe the process for each.

Google Australia

From the Google Australia home page www.google.com.au, in most browsers you need to click on the nine-square little icon at the upper right. Or if the headings are all text, click on the More link. Keep clicking on the More link or the Even More link until you arrive at the page which lists all the Google products. Scroll to the bottom of this page and find the Contact Us link. On this page find the link that says “Remove illegal content from Google” (https://support.google.com/legal/troubleshooter/1114905?rd=2). You are now on a page that says “Removing Content from Google”. This is the troubleshooter page from which you choose the type of Google product, which will usually be Web Search. In the Web Search selection, if none of the choices seem to apply to you choose “I have a legal issue not mentioned above”. In this next selection choose “I have located defamatory content in Google’s search results”. You will choose your country of residence of Australia and then will need to fill out the main form, which represents your actual takedown application to Google.

Here is your opportunity to get a web page delisted from Google Australia, but you’ll need to do everything correctly as well as state a convincing argument why a major search engine should take the major step of taking down one of their listings. It’s not guaranteed to work in all cases, but by all means give it a fair try.

All the starred boxes must be filled in correctly. That can include the potentially painful step of going to the offending web page to get the exact URL, as well as the defamatory content. When on that page, highlight the entire address box at the top of your screen, the string that begins with http://. Be sure to copy the entire address, not leaving any bits off. Easiest way is to highlight the entire http address, then right click on it and choose Copy. Then paste it into the required URL box on the web form. Next you will have to go through the content of the web page to pick out the parts of it that are defamatory. Again, the easiest way is to highlight, copy and paste.

In your vivid description as to why the content is defamatory, be sure to include the statement “This URL is in direct violation of Australia’s Defamation Act (2005)”. If false statements have been made about you, use the word libel, as the word slander could be interpreted to be something that is truthful. If you are a woman who is being harassed and degraded sexually, mention the words sexual harassment and sexual degradation of women. Everything you state in this form must be literally true and not invented or exaggerated, so don’t embellish your case by stretching the truth or making stuff up. See this document as a serious legal statement that could be admitted in court under oath without fear of perjury against you. If you are being accused of crimes you didn’t commit, state your lack of criminal history. State what your true reputation locally really is, again without lies or embellishments. If your private personal details or photos have been broadcast for the purpose of harming you, mention this as an invasion of your right to privacy and how this breach is hurting you.

In your statement don’t waste words by rambling on with your entire life history. The people reading your report are very busy and don’t have time to hang out with you. If you make it too hard for them to determine what the actual issue is, it won’t help your case. Be brief but without omitting important details of your case.

Afterwards, don’t forget to tick the box, put in the date and type in your legally binding signature that matches the name in the first box at the top of the form. Now think about what you’ve written before hitting Send. Check everything scrupulously for errors, try to correct any grammatical mistakes. If you are intellectually challenged or otherwise don’t write English very well, it is OK to get help from a friend in compiling this information and presenting it in good English. A properly written document is more likely to succeed than one that isn’t.

Then click Send. You should quickly get back an automatic email from Google to the email address you provided. They often do also inform you if the web page has been taken down from search, but that could take up to two or three weeks. If you never hear back from them and the web page remains, try again at a later time.

Google gets a staggering number of these takedown requests every single day, so it’s a wonder they can deal with the enormity of the task. Be patient, give the process some time to work and try it again if it doesn’t work the first time, perhaps rethinking what you’ve written.

What is all this mention of “Chilling Effects” in Google? If your defamation takedown request is successful, there is likely to be a Chilling Effects annotation placed at the bottom of the web search pages. They usually don’t publish the contents of your takedown application, despite saying that they will do so but with your personal details redacted. Fortunately, in defamation cases the takedown statement is not published, however, there is a possibility they will publish your name. They don’t always do that, but they can and sometimes do publish the victim’s name. So again, think twice before proceeding, but for legal reasons you will have to use your real name. You can try, perhaps, to add a statement in the application requesting them not to use your name because you fear personal harm or attack might result. Do NOT use someone else’s name in your application!

Alternate removal methods to the above procedure can include filing a webspam report or filing a pornographic page report. These methods won’t work except in unusual cases, but are worth a try when applicable. The gateway page for reporting webspam is here: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/spamreport. There are many rules set forth in the Google Webmaster Guidelines, and if you encounter a defamatory site breaking these rules by all means file a webspam report. It doesn’t often succeed, but when it does Google removes the URL completely, and with no Chilling Effect report! Here is the page that states the Google Webmaster Guidelines: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35769

In the Webmaster guidelines, pay special attention to the section called Quality Guidelines which state:
Quality guidelines – basic principles

Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
Don’t deceive your users.
Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
If the site which is defaming you in engaging in unusual tactics to boost its presence on the Internet, please do let Google know about it.

To report a pornographic page, repeat the steps above until you arrive again at the troubleshooter page https://support.google.com/legal/troubleshooter/1114905?rd=2. This time choose “A pornographic site that includes a full name or business name”. Click Yes in the three places that pop up and fill in the brief form. It doesn’t require the disclosure of any details, just the correct URL address and your email address. Google will then decide if your report has merit, and if it does the page will soon disappear from web search.

Bing

Bing has apparently changed its position regarding web page takedowns in Australia for the better. You might now be able to get a URL removed without a court order. To find the form, go to www.bing.com and click on the Help tab down below. Click on “Report a concern about a result”. Use the “Bing Report a Violation Support Form” (https://support.discoverbing.com/eform.aspx?productKey=bingsearchabuse&ct=eformts) only to report pornographic issues or child endangerment/exploitation issues. Otherwise, near the bottom of the “Report a concern about a result” page, under the heading “Report concerns about a website’s content”, click where it says “To report other content issues contact Bing support” (https://support.discoverbing.com/default.aspx?mkt=en-us&productkey=bingcontentremoval&brand=&&ct=eformts&scrx=1). Fill in your name and email address, then in the “Please select an option” dropdown box, choose “Request to remove content from Bing”. In the next dropdown box choose “Violation of an applicable law (provide details)”.

Then you must fill in the box to describe your problem. As with Google, be accurate and explicit in your description. Use the phrase “This URL is in direct violation of Australia’s Defamation Act (2005). Follow the same guidelines stated for Google Australia above. Do not lie or exaggerate your claim or provide any kind of false information, just be honest and to the point.

Don’t forget to fill in the box for “Search result URL”, which is the URL of the offending web page. Under “Search query/Keyword”, state your name or whatever web search words bring up the offensive page. In the last box for “Site(s) on which action needs to be taken”, fill in Bing.com.

Yahoo

Yahoo in Australia, or Yahoo7 as it is known, only carries a very small percentage of the web search traffic in Australia, an estimated 1 to 2%. It derives its search data from Google but oddly lacks the completeness of the Google search results. In a way, this is good because it seems to self-censor a lot of questionable websites. But it also seems to be the most difficult search engine to get results removed from. What few options they give you are accessible through the Help link at the bottom of the page, then click on Yahoo Customer Care. Use the appropriate form to report your issue and good luck, because they probably won’t be very helpful. But it doesn’t hurt your cause to let them know anyway.

Ask

Ask.com and its Australian division au.ask.com is generally very approachable about removing defamatory links. You have to first go to www.ask.com (not the Australian default site au.ask.com) and click on Help at the bottom of the page. On the help page find the link that says Contact Customer Support, then fill out a statement using the contact form. Mention that the link is in direct violation of Australia’s Defamation Act (2005).

The Problem of Google.com

What we are referring to as Google or Google.com is the United States version of Google. Google started and is still headquartered in the US, in California’s Silicon Valley region. The two men who founded and run Google see themselves as champions of free speech, because a number of governments in the world try to censor and block search results from sites that are in opposition to their policies. Hence if a website is removed by Google as a result of a legal request, they prefer to leave a record of that on the Internet through the Chilling Effects website for greater transparency.

Google basically wants nothing to do with removing search results, but has been forced into it through lawsuits filed throughout the world. Google has subdivided itself into many local versions, one of which is Google Australia (Google.com.au). Each version tends to operate in accordance with the laws of the country it is based in, except in cases where Google feels these laws are unjust, such as the censorship of dissent in China.

The original version of Google, which is Google.com based in the US, is still the flagship version upon which all other versions depend. A search result removed from Google.com is normally removed from the other versions throughout the world. However, it can be extremely difficult to get even very offensive defamatory web pages taken down from Google.com, a process that often involves hiring a lawyer and suing the person who is the source of the material. Websites that host offensive content are protected by US law, and Google like most major media outlets strongly supports that law.

Web pages which are removed from search by Google Australia never are removed in Google.com or the other versions of Google, unless one successfully applies for takedowns from those other versions separately.

All this wouldn’t seem to be very relevant to defamation victims in Australia. However, Google.com’s penetration into the Australian market has grown remarkably in recent times, however inadvertently that might have happened. Google.com often is the default search on Android-based smart phones and tablets. Since more and more web traffic is going through these devices, more and more searches are being conducted through Google.com. Also, a lot of people who use Google in Australia are unaware they are using the US version, in some cases because a junkware download has quietly changed their default search to an odd search engine which gets all of its results from Google.com.

Google.com is now capturing an all-time high of about 13% of all Internet searches made in Australia. About one in every seven searches made through a Google product go through the US Google here. That’s not very comforting for those who thought getting defamatory URLs removed off of Google Australia and Bing would solve the problem.

Until Google.com is successfully sued into removing defamatory sites for Australian victims, this situation is not going to get better and could get a lot worse.

Another Possibility: Reporting to the Web Host

Each website is paying a larger company to host it on the Internet. Many hosting companies do have contact forms where you can report abusive content for a hosted web page. While it would seem like a long shot for this method to result in a take-down of content, if you’ve had no luck with other methods give this one a try also. While it is rare for web hosts to actually remove specific content, they can exert pressure on the webmaster to do something about the abuse on the site. To find out who is hosting a website, use the same method stated previously for contacting a webmaster when there is no other method. Use one of the WhoIs sites, such as http://who.is, to find this information. If you can identify the actual hosting company, go to their website and search the site’s help pages to find a link for reporting abuse. If no such specific link is provided, you can always send them an email through their normal contact methods.

Check the WhoIs information carefully and see if you note anything that might be incorrect about the webmaster. If the webmaster has provided false information, such as an incorrect address or non-functioning email address you should report this to the proper authority. If the web host doesn’t provide a link for this purpose, anyone can report inaccurate WhoIs information here: http://www.icann.org/en/resources/compliance/complaints/whois/inaccuracy-form.

Websites can be deactivated if it is proved that the webmaster provided false information or is no longer reachable at the stated addresses.

Request Removal of Defamatory Google Search Results?

Simply enter the search phrases that display unfavorable results in Google Search:




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