Google Agrees to Remove Defamatory Search Results that Target U.K. Businessman
On November 23, 2014, Google settled an online abuse case in the U.K. after being taken to court by a businessman over offensive and malicious search results. As reported by the BBC, businessman Daniel Hegglin requested that anonymous posts pertaining to him be removed from search results, claiming these posts were wrongly painting him, among other things, as a “murderer, pedophile and Ku Klux Klan sympathizer.” Neither side disclosed the details of the settlement.
A search for Hegglin’s name, as seen in Figure 1 above, shows that a few search results have been omitted in compliance with the court’s ruling. Hegglin claims that there were approximately 3,600 websites that contained abusive material directed at him, all of which he says are completely untrue. Even if Google was not the originator of the online abuse, Hegglin believes Google is responsible for allowing the abuse to become more widespread by displaying them in search results.
Although highly similar to the EU’s “Right to be Forgotten” directive, Hegglin’s legal action is about censoring defamatory content, whereas those who make Right to be Forgotten requests want Google to censor search results that are true but embarrassing. The BBC observes that Hegglin’s is an “exceptional case” due to the sheer scale of the trolling.
As noted by Clive Coleman, BBC’s legal correspondent, Hegglin’s case was about removing “the circulation and publication of highly abusive and false material accessible at the click of a mouse in the online world.”
It should be noted, however, that as of press time, the top search result for Hegglin’s name on Google is still defamatory. It appears to be a Facebook page that has since been taken down but is still appearing in the search results. While Google did honor the court’s decision, the company believes it has no responsibility over the actions of people who post such content, malicious or otherwise.
Do you think Google should be held culpable for allowing defamatory content to appear in its search results? Can you name some effective means of preventing and combating online abuse?
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