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Defamation with SEO

Defamation with SEO

How SEO is used to spread defamation

Professional people work hard for a living. Everyone has a soft spot. Being called a certain bad name in public could cause damage to a professional person’s reputation, sometimes beyond repair.

Search engine optimisation and defamation

SEO and defamation case example

Why SEO defamation is so difficult to identify

How to resolve defamation with SEO

Search engine optimisation and defamation

Search engine optimisation is often used to spread defamation fast and in an efficient manner. Search engines are used to spread fake news, often in a manner which at first sight appears to be innocent. The discreet manner by which defamation by SEO could be spread, often makes it difficult to identify the defaming party and even to prove an intent to defame. SEO can cause a insignificant fact to appear important and a small detail as big news.

SEO and defamation case example

But perhaps the most harmful insult of all was suffered by our client, let’s call him Stuart Granville, was a civil servant, who worked as a social worker for the Children’s Service at a district council in the north of England. Stuart specialised for many years in teaching children with learning difficulties and had achieved a tremendous professional respectability within his county council and beyond. He was shocked to learn one day, from a colleague who searched his name on the internet, that the top three Google search results were news stories about social workers who were convicted and jailed for offences of child pornography!

The news stories were not about Stuart Granville at all, and his name appeared nowhere in them. Nevertheless, they mysteriously appeared at the top of the search pages whenever the search term "Stuart Granville" was entered. As you may imagine, the implications were very detrimental for Stuart. Google search results suggested that he was a sex offender of the worst type but when you clicked through to read the actual articles, there was no connection to or mention of his name. Considering that first impression counts and that most people don’t bother to read news articles in full, the association between Stuart and sex offending was clearly defamatory and damaging to him. Someone who works with children, associated with convicted child molesters?! It was mind-boggling, beyond comprehension. This anomaly was not an accident. Stuart, in fact, had become a victim of online defamation.

SEO Defamation Legal Advice FAQ

SEO defamation involves using search engine optimisation tactics to spread defamatory content about an individual or a company. This could include associating someone's name with negative search terms or using 'tagging' to link their name to defamatory articles or fake news. The process is discreet, making it hard to identify the defaming party or prove intent to defame, yet it can significantly damage someone's reputation by making false associations appear as top search results.

An example involves Stuart Granville, a civil servant, whose name was mysteriously linked to articles about convicted child molesters on top Google search results, despite no actual connection. This was achieved through 'tagging' his name on those articles, making it appear as if he was associated with such criminal activities. This discreet method of defamation severely damaged his professional and personal reputation.

Identifying and resolving SEO defamation is challenging because the techniques used are often subtle and discreet. For instance, the use of 'tagging' can make unrelated negative articles appear in search results for an individual's name without explicitly mentioning them in the content. Victims might not be aware of the defamation until the damage is done, and identifying the perpetrator or proving intent can be complex. Resolving SEO defamation often requires legal intervention to remove the defamatory content and repair the search results.

To address SEO defamation, victims can start by identifying all instances of defamatory content and documenting how it's linked to their name through SEO tactics. Legal action can then be taken to request the removal of the content from the website or search engines. This may involve issuing takedown notices or court orders. It's also important to work with SEO experts to create positive content that can help mitigate the impact of the defamatory material and improve the victim's online presence.

Individuals and companies can protect against SEO defamation by proactively monitoring their online presence and setting up alerts for their name or business. Engaging in positive SEO practices, such as regularly publishing good-quality content, can help maintain a strong online reputation. It's also advisable to consult with legal and SEO experts to develop strategies for quickly addressing any defamatory content that may appear and to understand the legal avenues available for removing such content.

Why SEO defamation is so difficult to identify

Having had his name associated with negative news, at no fault of his own, Stuart immediately became concerned about his career, and later on about his personal reputation and even for his family's safety. Stuart did not have his own website and was not allowed to have one because of the delicate position that he held within the Children’s Service. That left an internet vacuum for his name. The vacuum was filled by someone who wanted to harm his career and knew just how to do it on the internet. Who did it? How was it possible for one individual to cause so much devastation to an innocent and very respectable member of the public?

We will come back to the question of who did it in a moment. Whoever decided to damage Stuart, did this by using a fake news website and something which is called 'tagging'. Think of tagging as providing a description of an item so that search engines can see it. Tagging was developed to allow search engines to associate an articles or products with certain keywords by way of grouping them together. The best way to understand tagging is to forget for a moment about the internet and think instead about a can of Coca Cola. If you were asked to tag (describe) a can of Coca-Cola with the most relevant words that come to mind, you might say "red", "fizzy", "cold", "can", "drink", "refreshing" and so on. The same words could also describe Pepsi Cola.

So tagging is a way of grouping items together, which is why Google loves tagging so much. Now, think about the article that you are currently reading. How would you tag it if you wanted search engines to find it? Or in other words, what would be the best way to describe it in short, simple words? Probably some words that come to mind are "internet law", "tagging", "social worker", "online reputation", "reputation attack", and so on. Are you starting to see how tagging helps search engines associate a word or a phrase with a product or an article? A tag can be added to any article posted on the internet by its publisher, or by someone given permission by its publisher. Tagging, then, is simply a series of keywords that aims to describe an online item, whether it is a product, a service, a news story, or a book - anything, really.

The publisher of the web pages containing the news articles about a social worker convicted of sexual offences against children had tagged each of these articles with a "Stuart Granville" tag, and from that point forward, whenever an internet search was carried out, the search engine made an association between Stuart Granville and the news articles which were tagged with his name. This process of copying a news article and publishing it on the internet with damaging tags can be done in less than 5 minutes. It can destroy someone's career, family, and reputation forever. Simple? Yes. Powerful? Most certainly.

How to resolve defamation with SEO

Often the victim of defamation will have some idea of who might be trying to harm their reputation so much. As for the perpetrator of the reputation attack on Stuart, Stuart believed beyond doubt that it was a parent who had had her children taken away from her by Social Services following an allegation of severe abuse. At the time, she promised Stuart, who was in charge of the Social Services Team that intervened and took the child away from his abusive mother, that he would live to regret his actions.

Stuart has never proven the identity of this person. In fact, in this case, this was not necessary after we have taken on his case. We wrote a few letters, and the articles were taken down. We then communicated with Google to make sure that the search results are fixed and that our client’s name does is no longer associated with those defamatory articles. Rather than seek revenge, Stuart just wanted to get on with his life, which is exactly what we helped him achieve. 

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