General Question

zina's avatar

How do you get a false news story taken down off a website? How do you take legal action against a news organization?

Asked by zina (1648points) January 10th, 2010

A blatantly false story was written about me by a major news organization and put up online. When it came out, I was surprised by the journalist’s lack of professionalism (making things up even though he had the whole interview on tape), and essentially creating a story around me with a political objective. But it was an exceptionally busy time for me, and I didn’t do anything about it and I suppose eventually I figured it would go offline shortly. But months later it didn’t and in fact it slowly crept to the top of the Google search using my name. There are limited things online about me, but I’m in a line of work where people search for me online fairly often, and this could easily impact my professional life (or for all I know already has). Since it looks like a legitimate article, I wouldn’t just assume people will discard it.

So about a year after publishing, I wrote the news organization – the main contact address, the specific author, and the author’s boss – describing the false claims in detail and asking the article be removed from the website (or corrected, etc). I received no reply and nothing happened. I wrote again, saying that if it were not removed I would pursue legal action. Still nothing.

What can / should I do? This has become very important to me as I see the possible consequences, and have gotten hints that there may have been some already. I can prove the false claims – I can’t prove the damage, but I can certain describe the likely potential for damage. Just to clarify that I have absolutely no interest in legal action, or any of the hassles associated with it. In my ideal world the webpage would disappear and that would be the end of it.

Thanks for any ideas or resources.

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11 Answers

john65pennington's avatar

If you have proof the printed story was false, then contact an attorney. i hope you saved the letter or email you sent to the author or business. this is evidence you will need for the attorney and court. this will show that you asked for an apology, but was totally ignored. you really need a civil attorney thats educated and practiced in this field. they are in the Yellow Pages.

Sandydog's avatar

I really sympathise with your predicament.
It seems to me that what makes for good gossip often gets into the newspapers nowadays rather than facts.
Gossip then sells more newspapers – its the money thing again.
I work for a very large organisation here in Britain and the rubbish that was printed about us in November was a complete misrepresentation of the facts.
Some high up tried to get the whole truth printed,but that never happened. This was from a national paper.
I can only wish you luck as you try and counter the lies told about you.

Kayak8's avatar

I don’t know the answer to the question about getting a story taken down, but to solve the issue of people googling you, you can do several things:

1. Get more stories written that are positive
2. Start your own website ( that will likely pop to the top of the list. From your website you can comment on the voracity of the earlier article, but you risk people going to look for it who might otherwise have never noticed.
3. Add a blog under your name with a different site that your website (in 2 above) that includes your name.
4. Hit your own website and blog frequently and ask people you know and trust to do the same thing.

Eventually you will have more about you than the single offending article when someone does a search.

marinelife's avatar

You need to get a lawyer to write a letter to the news organization that lays out the proof of the false claims and threatens a lawsuit.

This assumes that you are not a public figure.

delirium's avatar

Not only does @Kayak8 have a great idea there for making sure it’s not the first thing that comes up when you get googled, but a website under your name will help you look more professional in general.

Vincentt's avatar

Also try to call the specific news organization, at least then they have to reply. If you can, record it, just in case :)

Anyway, indeed one thing you can do is to make sure you control what people read about you on the internet, i.e. by creating own content on you.

You could also check the name of the journalist in question who wrote the article on you and see if you could contact him/her personally. If all else fails, you could even start a smear campaign on that journalist yourself ;-)

Blondesjon's avatar

Can you give us a link to the story?

filmfann's avatar

It is not enough to prove the story is incorrect. You must also be able to prove that they wrote this story with malice.
Watch the movie Absense of Malice.
All of life’s problems are solved at the movies.

fundevogel's avatar

@filmfann Whether or not errors are a result of a mistake or intentional action news organizations are supposed to issue retractions when they get something wrong. On the internet I’ve seen them go back and correct articles that contained errors that were pointed out to them.

Which news organization is responsible for the article? It looks kinda bad that they haven’t at least acknowledged your complaint.

zina's avatar

Just to follow up on this and let you all know what happened—in the newspaper’s “contact us” directory I found an email address for “legal matters and complaints” and I wrote to it (a formal, polite and very firm email saying I would pursue legal action if they didn’t remove it, etc). I figured I’d give one last try directly with them before contacting a lawyer, etc. Within a few days I received a reply that the page had been removed, and it had. I saw that another page which linked to the story (and had a short blurb of the story) was still up, so I replied to their email thanking them and if they could take that down as well, and even without a reply it was gone too within a day.

So it took some extra effort but contacting the legal dept worked, and while I maybe could have gotten some money through legal action (as a few people were quick to point out to me), I also saved myself all the stress and hassle.

plethora's avatar

@Kayak8 is right, but it is easier said than done and if you do not do it right, you can draw more attention to yourself. For instance, hitting your own website will do little for you because Google can tell if it is just you hitting your site over and over. Don’t ask me how, but I have looked into this myself. Google “online reputation management” and you will find several firms that supposedly do this. Be careful of . I have talked with them. But there are others.

Done right, this approach can drive the story down to the fifth or sixth google search page and few people look beyond the first page.

Getting it taken down is virtually impossible. Once it’s on the web, it’s there. But you can manage it and make it hard to find.

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