It is well-documented on our blog that Ripoff Report has a strict policy against the removal of any content: not if the author of a post has expressed a willingness to retract his or her statements; and not even if presented with a court order indicating a particular post contains false and defamatory content.
Under the current Communications Decency Act, Ripoff Report is well in its right to operate under this policy, notwithstanding the fact many business and individuals have been and continue to be harmed by false posts existing on the website.
A recent post on another blog suggests that Ripoff Report may be softening its stance a bit, perhaps willing to entertain valid court orders and maybe redacting false information. Nevertheless, the best approach to dealing with harmful content on Ripoff Report remains presenting a court order to search engines to get the relevant links de-indexed from the search results.
In late June, fellow attorney Aaron Minc blogged that Ripoff Report’s counsel mentioned to him that the website is on the verge of potentially applying a new policy in regards to false and defamatory content. In certain situations, Ripoff Report “may even redact the information specifically identified by [a] court as false.”
Naturally, there would still be hurdles to clear, just as there are now to comply with the website’s subpoena policy. Although, certainly, Ripoff Report would be headed in the right direction towards one day maybe removing entire posts.
However, right now Ripoff Report has only entertained the potential of removing certain statements. Consistent with some of our other blog posts, the best strategy for dealing with harmful Ripoff Report posts remains getting links to the offending posts removed from search engine such as Google and Bing (which, together, make up 85 percent of search engine market share).
Old technique trumps potential new policy
If, indeed, Ripoff Report moves forward with allowing redactions, it still raises questions. Can and will rebuttals/comments to original reports be redacted too? What about the titles? Would Ripoff Report entertain court orders based on default judgments (according to Minc’s blog, the answer is currently no)?
The fact remains Ripoff Report posts tend to rank highly in search results. And many businesses and professionals have experienced this firsthand, as false content on Ripoff Report often is listed as the top result on search engines when you search the names of the businesses and professionals (even higher than legitimate information, such as actual company websites).
It is hard to imagine a significant percentage of people in 2014 that do not Google (or otherwise search) a company or professional before engaging in business with them – let alone them not taking notice and ignoring top results that include words such as “SCAM” or “FRAUD.”
Moreover, a consumer is more likely to seek information about a company by, in fact, searching on Google rather than going directly to Ripoff Report. Therefore, if Ripoff Report continues to show an unwillingness to remove false posts in their entirety, the best case scenario is removing the relevant links from Google.
After all, a redacted post is still likely to rank highly in search results, which could and very well would still smear reputations. Plus, Ripoff Report will redact (or not redact) certain statements from a particular post at its own discretion.
In short, the process of getting links de-indexed, or removed, from Google involves filing a lawsuit against the author, obtaining a court order (via judgment or agreement with the defendant(s)) and presenting the court order to the search engine for removal. Although not legally required, Google typically honors valid court orders and de-indexes the relevant links.
Sure, the Ripoff Report posts will remain on Ripoff Report. However, a consumer that turns to a search engine for purposes of gathering information about a particular business or professional will not be able to find a damaging Ripoff Report post if its link has been de-indexed.
It is encouraging that Ripoff Report is potentially relaxing its standards. And the redaction of harmful content sounds good in theory. But, for now, it will still do less to eliminate the harm directed towards businesses and their professionals than the harmed party attempting to have its link de-indexed.