Usually when Google removes links from their search index, it is due to a DMCA filing alleging copyright infringement or as a result of a “Right to be Forgotten” request from the EU. But Google is now sending out link removal notices in response to legal complaints for “alleged defamation.”
SUBJECT: Notice of defamation removal from Google Search
In response to a legal complaint Google has received relating to alleged defamation, we have blocked certain URLs from your website from appearing in the search results on the following Google country-level services:
The notice that we received, with any personally identifying information removed, may be found on the website of Chilling Effects, a third party aggregator of legal complaint notices, at [REMOVED]. Please note that some identifying information may have been redacted from the notice.
Please note that it may take several weeks for the notice to be posted on the above page.
If you have legal questions about this notification, you should retain your own legal counsel. If you have any other questions about this notification, please let us know.
The affected URLs are listed below:
Here is a copy of the full notice Google is sending (personal information removed).
This particular notice was sent in response to a public figure in the UK being trolled in the comments of a webpage. It wasn’t directly related to a case that was settled in the UK today, as the above defamation notice was sent out on November 19, 2014.
This morning, UK businessman Daniel Hegglin reached a settlement with Google regarding untrue statements published about him by an “unknown internet troll” on various websites that were then indexed by Google and were showing up in the search results for his name. This wasn’t a standard “Right to be Forgotten” request, as in this case, the offending pages were untrue – it wasn’t a case where someone was just looking to erase something in their past that was true.
The fact that Google is now removing links for defamation means that webmasters who publish user generated content, even if it is simply blog comments or forum posts, means that they will need to be even more vigilant over the content of the comments they post, or they could see those webpages removed from Google’s search index because of it. Having a great comment policy in place can help, as does comment moderating. But publishing comments that could be seen as defamatory could result in pages being removed.
There does not seem to be guidelines from Google regarding what is considered defamation and how much they will remove. People can currently submit a removal request with the reason “I have located defamatory content in Google’s search results” which leads to Google’s legal removal request form. So it is unknown how many of these requests they honor, but they clearly do honor some, based on the removal notice Google is sending out.
If you are an affected webmaster, there isn’t an easy check box or reply for “Google we have removed the content in question, please let these pages back in!”. Instead, webmasters would have to go the counter-DMCA filing route, which can be time consuming.
It also raises the question whether these sites could also be affected by the so-called Pirate algorithm where websites that receive an abundance of DMCA requests are ranked lower in the search results.
A search through Chilling Effects shows that there have been defamation takedown requests filed with Google, however they are primarily for videos on YouTube, not for specific search results in Google’s search index.
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