false informationNowadays, it’s pretty much the norm to have an online presence. When you Google your name during one of your regular online checkups, it probably isn’t an unwelcome sight to see your professional website, dapper LinkedIn profile picture and various accolades strewn across the Internet. But what if you run into injurious and false information that’s been posted about you?

Unfortunately, discovering that you’ve been subjected to defamation, an occurrence in which false statements that can injure someone’s livelihood or reputation are made, is never something that’s easy to deal with. Thanks to the widespread use of social media, chat rooms and more, it’s not uncommon for individuals to face libel (i.e., a form of defamation that consists of statements that are published in writing) online. Slander, a defamatory statement made orally, is less common on the Internet, but it is still good to understand what it is, as well, so you can better recognize defamation if you come across it.

What actions can you take against defamation online?

While Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is in place to protect innovation and offer legal protections to some intermediaries (e.g., social media sites, news sites with comments sections, etc.) on the Internet from liability, there are some undertakings you can pursue to potentially remove false information about you from the Internet. If you find yourself a victim of “Twibel,” or defamation through online publication, here are some tactics you can try to get rid of false information that’s hurting your reputation.

Contact the person who published the false information

If you can identify the person who wrote and published the false information, see if you can contact them directly to ask them to voluntarily remove the false content. Before you send your request, however, be sure to take an extra few seconds to review the message you’re about to send. After all, there’s the chance that the perpetrator could publish the message that you’ve just crafted, or they could post more false information about you in retaliation. Because of these possibilities, it may be good to consider getting a lawyer to craft the message, depending on the situation, to ensure that you don’t incite further defamation. At the very least, consider having a trusted friend, colleague or family member read over your message before you hit send.

Reach out to the website or web host

In the case that the perpetrator doesn’t respond or refuses to comply, you can consider reporting the issue to the host of the defamatory content – either the website itself or in cases where the person responsible runs the website, the site’s web host. To find out if this is a possibility and how to go about it, take a look at the site’s terms and conditions to see if they detail what they consider to be violations of their terms and whether there’s a procedure for reporting the false information that you can follow. If you can demonstrate a violation of specific terms, it would make sense to provide evidence that displays this in your messages to the website, as it will help strengthen your case.

After you’ve familiarized yourself with the terms and conditions, you’ll want to find the website’s contact information. To find the website’s contact information, visit the website and look for contact information, or you can try finding the admin email by searching for the website’s domain on ICANN’s WHOIS, a directory that provides registrant and admin contact information for online domains. Note that some website owners elect to use domain privacy, which protects the personal details of the site owner and replaces their information with their web host’s on WHOIS, so be aware that it’s not always going to provide you the information you seek. Once you have the necessary contact information in hand, try reaching out to the administrators to request the removal of the false information.

Most social media websites have strict processes in place for requesting the removal of posts that are harmful or violate their terms and conditions, making them somewhat easier to deal with when it comes to getting false information removed. Websites run by individuals, however, might be more difficult to deal with – and you might have to resort to our next step if your attempts to get ahold of a site administrator or web host are a bust.

Report to Google and other search engines

Finally, try contacting Google and other search engines to see if your information can be delisted. To remove information from Google search results, which have a large pull when it comes to online visibility, you can make reports through this page. The page also provides links and more information about the kinds of information that can be readily reported to Google for removal requests, such as instances when non-defamatory private information, like sexually explicit images of you shared without your consent, has been disclosed.

Keep in mind, however, that delisting a search result containing your information just means that the content won’t show up in search results — the content that you wish to have removed may still remain on the website. For this reason, it’s important to make sure to keep trying to contact the webmaster or hosting service if you can. That way, the page (or at least the false information in question) can be completely removed since that’s something that Google or any other search engine can’t do.

Should you consult a lawyer?

If you’ve tried the above and all else fails, or you don’t want to navigate this process on your own, you may come to a point where you wonder if a lawyer’s leverage and assistance would be handy. When evaluating whether getting a lawyer would be worth it, make sure to keep some points in mind. First, lawyers can be costly, so if this is a simple case of something published on Facebook that you can request to be taken down, you probably will want to avoid the legal fees. In addition, it’s also good to be sure that you understand the difference between opinion, or “fair comments” (i.e., opinions derived from accurate facts), and defamation, as one can be defended in court while the other is protected, as outlined by the Communications Decency Act we mentioned above. Additionally, statements made toward a public person are usually not considered defamatory unless “malice” can be proven, so if you are someone with notoriety, you might have a bit more difficulty than the average Joe.

Now that you know more about what you can do if someone posts false information about you, learn more about how you can stay safe when using tech by taking a look at our technology blog.