Google Providing Aid To Revenge Porn Victims!

In: Online Reputation Management - ORM

20 Jun 2015
by Chris Silver Smith

Hallelujah! Google has announced that they’ll soon accept takedown requests from any revenge porn victims! This is a truly fantastic bit of news for anyone who may be the victim of revenge porn — where someone posts nude and compromising photos of one without consent online.

Google Revenge PornThis is really, really great news! Unfortunately, this doesn’t put me out of business in assisting victims of porn revenge. I hate to say that, since this is a very good thing that Google has done, but it’s somewhat only a portion of the whole picture surrounding revenge porn and similar reputation-attack issues. Thus far, this sounds like it only will be limited to the removal of images. So, that leaves videos, right? And, some cases of revenge porn I’ve dealt with involved both text and image content — there would continue to be text content showing up unless the victims go to further lengths to remove that.

And, Microsoft’s Bing search engine is still lagging far behind on helping revenge porn victims, as well as all other types of victims of defamation. You see, they’re not legally required to remove defamatory content — even when we have court orders establishing that the material is fraudulent and libel. Since Bing has apparently made some improvements in expanding their audience reach, this means that we continue to have to worry about how people’s reputations are affected in that search engine, as well as in Google.

USAToday quoted Danielle Citron (U of Maryland professor who wrote Hate Crimes in Cyberspace) regarding Google’s revenge porn announcement:

“What we have seen in the last six months is this public consciousness about the profound economic and social impact of that posting nude images without someone’s consent and often in violation of their trust can have on people’s lives. What victims will often tell you and what they tell me is that what they want most is not to have search results where their employers, clients and colleagues can Google them and see these nude photos. It’s not just humiliating, it wrecks their chances for employment. It makes them undatable and unemployable.”

This is exactly right. I think part of what she was alluding to about the last six months was how various states have been ramping up and enacting anti-revenge-porn laws, and I earlier reported on how the federal government has also started to target revenge porn sites, since they are often thinly-veiled extortion schemes. Current US law has it that web publishers are not particularly responsible for content that others post on their sites.

This created a sort of legal loophole for ruthlessly horrid sites to encourage anonymous posting of reputation damaging materials, including naked photos of people, while they could not be compelled to remove them. These awful sites made a business of this — the pics were posted for free, but victims might be asked to pay to have them taken down! In even worse cases, these porn revenge sites could be partnered behind-the-scenes with online reputation/marketing companies that would take the money for reputation clean-up, all the while keeping the revenge sites in business by paying them fees in return for removals. In some cases, the individuals involved also operate numerous sites that replicate the content even further! You might pay one site, only to discover the materials popping up on another. Some lawyers I’ve worked with on these things have described it like a game of Whack-A-Mole.

The costs for reputation victims go beyond removal fees, however, because one can rarely fix an online attack by paying a single site. You may realistically have to hire attorneys to assist you in obtaining court orders for removals, and you may need to hire online reputation agencies to assist with technical aspects, and for helping to proactively develop your online reputation so as to insulate against further future attacks or to displace negative material faster than legal procedures may accomplish.

The USAToday also quoted Danny Sullivan, who also wrote about Google allowing people to block revenge porn. Here’s one thing Danny said about the decision:

“If it’s not in Google, does it actually exist? The answer is yes, it does exist but it’s a heck of a lot harder to find. Even this won’t make it impossible but it does make it more difficult and, when it’s more difficult, it makes it less attractive for people to do this kind of behavior.”

He’s right — it doesn’t matter nearly as much if the undesirable content exists on some distant, esoteric website out there that few members of the general public are inclined to visit on any sort of frequent basis. The thing that has made revenge porn such a sensitive and damaging matter is it’s high visibility when one’s name is searched upon.

I’ve criticized the search engines and directly defied Google in court regarding the degree to which they help reputation attack victims (in November of last year, I provided expert witness testimony in UK court for an executive who had been the victim of an online harasser who had published false and defamatory comments on over one thousand different webpages, blog posts, news stories, and forums). I believe Google’s move to assist revenge porn victims further implicitly acknowledges my viewpoint that search engines are partially responsible for people’s reputations, because they helped to create the very medium in which people have become so very exposed and affected online.

I believe that part of the reason that Google honors court-ordered takedown requests for defamatory material in the US, and has now announced wider assistance to porn revenge victims, is partially motivated by liability concerns and not merely altruism. This is a cost for Google and for other online services that have similar policies — and, according to many of the company’s statements regarding the “Right To Be Removed” in the European marketplace, it is a significant one. They have staff devoted to assessing removal requests.

I hope that Bing takes note — the search engines clearly have a portion of responsibility in online reputation issues, and it behooves them to assist victims in these matters. The search engines can’t completely absolve themselves of responsibility, since they helped create the very medium that may expose the negative contents most visibly by bubbling it up to the top of the stack when a keyword search is done.

 

 

 

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