Google yourself. Do it now and do it often. If the results are not flattering, you may wonder how to take control of your online image and remove some of those unsavoury results. Although there is no one way to rehabilitate your online image, you may have options if the details violate a site’s acceptable use policy or is somehow illegal (such as being defamatory, a copyright violation, or a privacy breach). These three tips may save you some embarrassment.

Contact the site to request removal

Websites and social media platforms are controlled by their webmasters. They can remove any of the content found on their websites, upon request.

The first thing to try is to contact the site, point out the content, and try to convince them that it is a violation and should be removed. Many larger websites, such as YouTube or facebook have a complaints resolution process or a contact reporting process that can be found on posts or in their terms of use. It is worth looking for this process, as it may be the only way they will respond.

For smaller websites, they may have a “contact us” section that lets you know how to contact them.

Request that Google remove search results

Google does not take responsibility for the content published on individual websites, but they will remove certain search results in limited circumstances. This will remove the results from Google searches, but will not remove the content from the websites.

Google has an online tool for reporting legal issues. If the Google search result contains your personal information, is defamatory, or has otherwise been declared unlawful by a Court Order, use the troubleshooting mechanism in this link to request its removal. 

Keep in mind that while this removes it from a Google search, it does not remove it from search results of other search engines.

Overshadow it

If you are unable to have the content removed through requests or a legal process, you can overwhelm it with positive results. Individuals rarely click beyond the 5th result in a Google search, so your online image can be dramatically improved by creating your own content, or having other people make positive comments. That pushes the unwanted content lower down the search rankings and increases the proportion of positive content. Starting a blog, creating a professional website, building your LinkedIn profile and attracting followers to your twitter account are all ways to improve the likelihood that next time someone Googles you, they will be left with a positive impression.

It is important to be proactive in managing your digital image as employers and financial lenders are increasingly using online search results to assess your suitability for jobs and loans. Whether it is by contacting the website administrator, troubleshooting with Google, or generating new positive content, when your reputation is under attack, take swift action to prevent the spread of the information and ensure the next search of your name returns only the best results.

David is an Associate Lawyer with our Business and Financial Services, Employment and Labour Law and our Technology and Privacy Law Groups. Connect with David on LinkedIn.