“The Internet is written in ink.”
Or is it?
It seems everyone believed that phrase after the ex-girlfriend of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, said it in the movie The Social Network. That movie helped us see how the Internet can destroy a person’s reputation overnight and with very little effort. Today, anyone with an agenda can open a blog account and start spreading malicious rumors about you—in some cases without you even knowing it.
Lucky for you, the Internet is more aptly written in pencil. Negative articles, false information, and scandalous pictures and videos can be removed if you take the right strategic approach. Freedom of speech is protected under the Constitution, but that doesn’t mean someone has a right to spread malicious information that can destroy your character or business. You do have a legal right to get that information pulled down if it infringes on your rights.
I was recently approached by a financial consultant, Alan Gottlob, who discovered an investment website posted a false and misleading article that slandered his reputation. The article was factually incorrect and harmed Gottlob’s reputation so much that his million-dollar clients were starting to close their accounts with him. Gottlob tried several times to get the record corrected, but the writer and editor of the newspaper refused to budge.
Gottlob contacted me in the fall of 2010 after the negative article started spreading on the Internet. Other financial websites were now picking up the article and Gottlob feared his days of financial consulting were nearing an end.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, there are several steps you can take to get the material removed from the Internet if you apply some proven crisis communications strategies.
The first thing you must understand is that there is a difference between opinion, libel, and slander. If a restaurant critic writes that your restaurant smells, you can’t take legal action to bring down the story. However, if the critic writes a factually inaccurate article that accuses you of wrongdoing and harms your business, you do have legal recourse to get the page pulled down. And you don’t always need an attorney for this. Sometimes a strongly worded letter that outlines how the article is inaccurate and misleading is enough to get the publisher’s attention.
Next up: If you find a negative or false article written about you, go after the power brokers or people who finance the publication, which includes the publisher, city editors, executive producers, and most important, the legal counsel for the publication. Do a quick Google search to find out who owns the website or publication. Most people, like Gottlob, contact the writer when a negative article is published. You need to complain to the people who control the money. Your letter to these power brokers needs to state why this article is inaccurate and, most important, how the article financially harmed your business and reputation. If you can’t show any financial duress from the article, you won’t succeed in the court of law or with the publisher.
Don’t wait. Go after the website’s owners immediately. The longer a website is up, the more time search engines have to index the page. Unfortunately, it took Gottlob several weeks to get a hold of the reporter and her superiors. By the time Gottlob was able to speak to the reporter, the web page had already been indexed and was on the first page of Google’s results. By the time I got involved with his case, the story had spread to other investment websites. Bad news travels fast on the Internet, so don’t procrastinate in the fight. If you are able to get the negative article removed, make sure you alert Google to stop indexing the web page.
And if you fail to get the negative article removed from the Internet because you were either in the wrong or it involved someone’s opinion, there are ways to get the information pushed off of the first page of Google. I call this “cramming the content.” You can try to push the negative information off the front page of Google by writing your own blog or article, giving your side of the story.
This form of crisis communications will only grow in the future as more bloggers and news organizations post articles on the Internet. Google your name or company frequently to make sure no one is spreading false or malicious rumors that can destroy your business. We got the false and negative article on Gottlob pulled from the Web, so you can succeed with a multi-pronged approach.
Mark Macias is the co-founder of BigBirdFans.com. He produces social media videos for all kinds of clients and consults on publicity campaigns. You can read more at www.MaciasPR.com.