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Help! I have been defamed online – Part III, the perils of being Googled

Have you “googled” yourself lately? If you have not, I recommend that you go ahead and do so. You might be surprised by what you discover is posted about you online.

In these days of social media, your online reputation is extremely important. What if there is something written about you in cyberspace that is defamatory, meaning that it is untrue and harmful to your reputation?

When something defamatory is posted about you online, search engines, such as Google, Yahoo! or Bing, act like magnifying glasses or amplifiers, bringing the world’s attention to those words. What can you do to deal with this problem?

Notify the search engines immediately
You should immediately contact the search engines and notify them of the defamatory search results. In your notice to the search engines, you will be requesting that they remove the link to the defamatory words from the search results associated with particular search terms (for example, your name or your company’s name).

Each search engine has specific requirements for these types of notices. It is therefore advisable to consult with a lawyer who specializes in the area of online defamation when preparing the notice.

“Caching” out
Assume that, after discovering the defamatory statement, you contact the website operator or internet service provider and request the removal of defamatory statement from the website (see Help! I have been defamed online: practical tips – Part I and Part II ). The website operator or ISP complies with your request. You can now breathe a sign of relief because the defamatory statement has been removed from cyberspace, right?

Wrong. When “googling” your name, the defamatory statement might still appear in the search results. The reason for that anomaly is the search engine’s “cache”.

A search engine’s cache is, essentially, a copy of a webpage as captured by the search engine on a particular date. If the contents of the webpage were cached by the search engine prior to the defamatory statement’s removal, the “copy” of the defamatory statement that was made by the search engine might still appear in the search results when you “google” your name.

You would therefore need to contact the search engine and request that they remove the cached site. As mentioned above, each search engine has a process for requesting the removal and your lawyer can assist you with that process.

Can I sue Google?
If the search engine does not remove the defamatory statements from the search results and cache after you serve it with notice, you might be able to sue it in Canada for online defamation. Whether or not you will be successful is difficult to predict because, so far, there is no Canadian precedent.

Maanit Zemel, Associate
Miller Thomson LLP

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Maanit Zemel

Internet and Social Media lawyer, commercial litigator at MTZ Law
Maanit Zemel is a commercial litigator admitted to practice in Ontario and New York, with substantial experience and expertise in Internet and social media law, including Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), privacy, online defamation, cyberbullying and cyber-security. Read more.
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