6 Ways to Remove Damaging Content From Social Media

June 25, 2021

Content that is defamatory, damaging, private, infringing, or otherwise unlawful can be removed from social media. There are a variety of tactics, both legal and non-legal, that are effective in securing the removal of harmful content.  In the age of cancel culture, maintaining a positive online presence is an essential part of maintaining employment. If your reputation is under attack, these strategies can help.

Common examples of content that can be removed from social media includes:

  • A YouTube video spreading defamatory allegations about a company
  • A Reddit thread created by an ex-employee to publish grievances about their former employer
  • Personal photos or videos that are being published without consent on Instagram
  • Fake reviews on a company Facebook page by a person who never utilized the services of that company
  • A TikTok video shaming an individual and claiming they engaged in reprehensible behavior

How to Remove Content from Social Media: 6 Solutions

When a person is being attacked on social media, their first inclination might be to file a lawsuit. While you can file a lawsuit to remove content from the Internet, this time consuming and costly step is not always necessary.  Additionally, not every untrue statement is actionable. Fortunately, there are a variety of tactics that can remove content from social media. The best strategy is likely a combination of one or more of the following:

1.      Send a DMCA Request

A DMCA request is a copyright tool that is effective in removing infringing or private content from social media. DMCA refers to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which is the United States copyright statute. A DMCA request is a notice that demands that the publisher of infringing content (typically a photo, video, or musical number) remove it from the internet or face the potential of a copyright lawsuit.

The most common use of the DMCA request for content removal purposes is to remove branded content created by a business or an influencer. The DMCA request can also be used to remove revenge porn. To learn more about revenge porn, see our other articles on revenge porn.

Determining where to send a DMCA request is a strategic calculation that an attorney can help you consider. A DMCA request can typically be sent to the social media platform where the content is published or the individual infringer.

While DMCA requests are effective in removing content from social media, the social media site or account user does have the option to file a counternotice denying infringement or arguing that their usage constitutes fair use.  Generally, an unauthorized user can utilize copyrighted material if their usage is found to be transformative, but this is a decision that will need to be made by a court.  If a DMCA request is ignored or a counternotice is filed, the next step is to file a copyright lawsuit.

2.      Flag/ Report the Content for a Violation of that Platform’s Terms

All social media platforms have terms of use. These terms have a variety of different names depending on the platform. Facebook’s terms are called “Community Guidelines.”  Twitter’s terms are called “The Twitter Rules.”  Regardless of the specific name of the terms, the purpose is the same- to inform users about what content is and is not permissible on those platforms.

While the terms of social media sites vary slightly, they preclude users from publishing certain impermissible content.  Spam, nudity, hate speech, violent content, and impersonation accounts are examples of content that are generally not permitted on social media sites. If the content at issue falls into one of those categories, you may be able to remove it as a violation of that term.

Each social media platform has a slightly different process for reporting violations. Some platforms require a user to flag the content, while other platforms allow a user to submit a more detailed inquiry through a web portal. While this method can be the easiest and most cost-effective way to remove content, the platform ultimately has full discretion in determining a term has been breached.

3.      Ask a Group Moderator to Remove the Content

Some social media platforms (like Reddit and Facebook) have appointed moderators to monitor content published to specific groups or subreddits. While moderators are not actual employees of the social platform, they do have discretion in removing certain types of content that may violate that group’s terms.  Appealing to a moderator is an effective option for content removal.

4.      Identify the Publisher of the Content and Ask them to Remove the Content

An obvious, but not to be underestimated, content removal tactic is to request that the person who published the content remove it. This request can look like a diplomatic editorial request or an aggressive cease and desist letter.  A skilled attorney can assess a situation and assist in deciding the proper tone for your situation. While this type of request can be sent to a person operating an anonymous account, it is often more effective when addressed to an ascertainable person, as it adds a layer of accountability.

There are many tools that can be used to identify an anonymous account user without filing a lawsuit.  Conducting a series of tailored Google and reverse image searches is often effective in ascertaining the identity of an anonymous social media user. Once the anonymous account user is identified, you can then follow up with a removal request.

5.      If the Identity of your Attacker is Unknown, File a Lawsuit to Unmask Their Identity

Sometimes, despite best investigative efforts, you will not be able to identify an anonymous person without obtaining a court ordered subpoena. This process includes subpoenaing social media platforms and Internet Service Providers for Internet Protocol (“IP”) addresses related to the account user attacking you.  Once an anonymous person on social media has been identified, your attorney can help you decide how you want to proceed with content removal.

6.      Seek a Court Order Mandating Removal of the Content

Ultimately, if the above methods fail to secure removal of content from social media, you will only be able to remove it with a court order.  The drafting of court order for content removal is extremely important. Although an order will be against the publisher of the content, it should include specific language directed the social platform to remove the content. An experienced content removal attorney can assist in drafting a court order that will be effective in achieving your goals.

Can I Sue Facebook/ Instagram/ Twitter/ TikTok/ YouTube?

Suing a social media platform for damaging content posted by site users is not likely to have a good result. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act insulates websites, including social media platforms, from liability for content published by social media users on that platform.  Likewise, a social media platform cannot be sued if they properly adhered to the DMCA process in a copyright removal situation. The proper defendant to a lawsuit is the person who published the damaging content, not the social platform.

Are There Risks to Removing Content from Social Media?

The biggest risk of removing content from social media is the Streisand effect.  The Streisand effect is a phenomenon that can occur when a person, in removing content, creates more attention and exposure to that content. While this risk can be minimized through careful planning, it is always a risk in a content removal situation.

Another risk of content removal is that the content that was removed can be reposted.  Careful drafting a court order can minimize, but not negate, this risk.

If you are dealing with negative content on social media, a content removal attorney can help you weigh your options for removal. Please contact Internet & Defamation Attorney Alexandra Arko (ALA@kjk.com; 216.716.5642) for more information.