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Can You 'Fix' Embarrassing Google Search Results?

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

Beverly "Bev" Stayart has a small, and semi-embarrassing, problem. When you Google her name, one the search suggestions is "bev stayart levitra." For those who haven't been subjected to erectile dysfunction commercials, Levitra is a drug that helps men with their sexual performance. In fact, it's not just Google. At one point, she had similar issued with Yahoo!.

Rick Santorum has a similar issue. Angry citizens, practicing their right to free speech and lowbrow political criticism, created a website and anti-Santorum blog that defined his last name as a mixture of two human by-products that are not suitable for polite conversation. Imagine running for President and having that appear in your search results.

What about you, however? When was the last time you Google'd, Yahoo'd, or Bing'd yourself?

If you don’t like what you find, don’t expect to be able to sue the search engine. Bev tried twice. According to FindLaw’s fabulous Seventh Circuit Blog, to date, she lost lawsuits against both Yahoo! and Google.

Instead of lawsuits, try a more creative approach. Contact each site that appears in the unwanted results and politely request that they take the material down. If it is a privately-owned site, posting its own material, you might have a chance or even legal recourse against them. But as many of you dear lawyers are well aware, the Communications Decency Act protects internet service providers and websites against content posted by users and third parties.

Or, as noted by other commentators on the great Bev issue have said (including the aforementioned 7th Circuit blog), try diverting the search results. Blog. Get positive news to outrank the negative stuff. Like a toddler with a new toy, search engines will soon drop the older, less fresh stuff in favor of what is new and shiny.

In other words, new, better content > suing.

Also, remember this very important fact: search engines are like quicksand in reverse. The more you struggle and emphasize what is “bad,” the higher the unwanted result rises. With more publicity or online discussion a site receives, the more Google’s algorithm likes and ranks the results. If one were to say, file a lawsuit, or write angry rants against another site, that merely feeds the beast and increases its relevancy, and by extension, it’s place in search results.

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