Glenn Laken

Google Changes Policy on Defamation Rulings

Attorneys specializing in online defamation or libel cases have stated that Google is no longer removing URLs from U.S. search results, even when those URLs are listed in a court order. This is a paradigm shift for the search engine that impacts victims of defamatory online reputation attacks.

About six months ago, attorneys across the country started receiving blank denials regarding submitted requests to remove defamatory content from Google’s search results.

This is a reversal of expected behavior. Google had an informal policy of accepting removal request if accompanied by a court order specifying the libelous content at specific URLs. In the past, Google could receive hundreds of URLs in a single ruling, and they previously removed those sites from the search results.

They haven’t stopped for all requests, but it is clear that the policy is changing.

How should online the online reputation management industry respond to the recent change. Given that this leaves attorneys without any consistent precedent to convey to clients, it is currently an unclear time for these professionals.

Some websites and online services like Reputation Defender review respond to defamation removal requests. It might be prudent to approach the site directly to pull the defamatory material. Once you are sure the site has removed as much as it is willing to, then you can try google for more comprehensive removal, including the hosting URLs.

In 1996, Congress clarified that search engines are not publishers and, therefore, not subject to information posted in search results. The specific wording states, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

Interactive computer service are information systems or access software providers that enable computer access for multiple users to a server.

Google’s sudden about face on this policy isn’t yet understood. Removal requests may also be philosophically troubling in many instances. According to Search Engine Land, many removal requests citing defamation start with government agencies and law enforcement. This could be seen as a violation of free speech in a stretch, but it is unclear if that impacted Google’s decision to change its policy.