Protecting Your Online Reputation Despite A Criminal Record
For many years now, those individuals with criminal records have asserted that the path to gainful employment is much more difficult for them than it is for people without a record. The vast majority of employers offering well-paid positions conduct detailed criminal background checks on every person they hire. Most employers also ask their candidates to disclose their criminal history on the job application. This can keep an otherwise qualified candidate from gaining lawful employment, sometimes for things he did while still a teenager. And if someone who’s served their time and paid their debt to society can’t find legal work, guess where they must turn? To whatever means necessary to support themselves and their families. It’s an unfair vicious cycle.
There has been some progress in recent times to make it easier for those convicted of crimes to find honest employment, like the ban-the-box movement. Unfortunately, most places will still conduct due diligence searches and can still deny a job if anything negative appears, even after making an offer to the job seeker. The ban-the-box movement typically requires employers to removal any question about criminal history from job applications. But that only gets the person in the door, it doesn’t stop an employer from denying work to a qualified candidate based on something he did ten, twelve, or even fifteen years ago. Although it’s a step in the right direction, these laws don’t exist everywhere, and even where they do, the ban-the-box laws often only apply to government jobs and exempt private employers from the law. But as anyone with a criminal history can confirm, the job search process is still far from easy. Simply having a criminal history discovered, regardless of what that crime is disqualifies the candidate from so many jobs.
Even the smallest amount of online news about a person’s involvement with the criminal justice system can tarnish the online reputation of an otherwise good person. And it doesn’t even have to lead to a conviction. News reports of citations and arrests linger online long after the incident. The charges can be dismissed or a person can be found not guilty and yet they must still deal with the consequences of a damaged name. Police reports, court records, and mug shots pop up online all of the time. It makes no difference whether you were convicted or not, your run-ins with the law can end up spread across the internet for all to see. And far too often the news regurgitates the government’s version of events straight from their press release, without ever getting your side of the story. That’s just the way things are. Because the government and the press control the narrative, you’re at their mercy. And because they’ll rarely update the information to correct anything that’s inaccurate or even untrue, you normally have to live with the public getting their skewed version of events for as long as the article is online.
The only real solution is to take control of the narrative involving your life. This is what online reputation is all about. It’s about replacing the negative information with new information that presents you in an honest and professional way. Though it’s hard to get a media outlet that profits from the publication of your story to remove it, it’s not always impossible. But, it’s often far more effective and just as useful to just keep that information from appearing when someone Googles you. Most people will only look as far as the first page of Google, so getting the old news stories to the second or third page is a very effective way of repairing your online image. This effectively gets rid of the negative. And this is a path that, while difficult, can be done. Of course, the difficulty of this task depends on a number of factors such as where the news is published and what the crime was.
Obviously, if your arrest or conviction was publicly reported in a national newspaper, it will be harder to remove than if it was published locally. Someone posting about you on their personal blog might be easy to cover up, but if the Department of Justice sent a press release your attempts at image rehabilitation will be quite difficult. So what should you do? The best approach to repairing your online image when a criminal record is involved depends upon the severity of the crime, the amount of time that has elapsed since the incident, and whether or not you have multiple offenses to address.
Should I Look Into Expungement?
Of course, it’s worthwhile to explore the possibility of getting your records expunged. You will want to look up the rules for expungement in your state to see whether or not you are eligible to remove the records of criminal offenses from your criminal history. This is no sure thing though, as certain serious crimes can never be expunged. Expungement is also rarely an option for recent crimes. Actually, for most people expungement is the best possible. If you manage to get a crime expunged, you can truthfully say that you do not have a criminal record on job applications, but more important for your overall reputation is this: you’ll have better leverage for getting content about your criminal history removed from the web. Many of the sites publishing your criminal history will remove listings if you can prove the record has been expunged.
Keep in mind some types of offenses will be easier to get expunged than others. Juvenile convictions are commonly expunged or sealed when the individual turns 18. And drug offenses are easier to expunge than other types of crimes. We suggest talking to a lawyer that is an expert on criminal expungements.
How Should I Deal With Arrest Records?
If you are unable to have your criminal record expunged, your options for removing all traces of your arrest are more limited, or at least they are more complicated. It’s easier to convince mugshot sites, criminal record databases, and newspapers that reported on your case to remove details about your criminal records if they have been sealed or expunged, but they usually won’t help you without legal weight behind your request. One exception to this rule regards arrests and mugshots that never resulted in convictions. The rules of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission specify that employers shouldn’t use arrest records alone to bar individuals from employment. This is because arrest records do not prove guilt. Only a conviction indicates that a person was actually guilty of a crime. Arrest records, however, still raise suspicion. That is why it is still important to address them wherever they are published.
Generally speaking, there are no laws that dictate what the press can and cannot publish as long as the information is factual and not malicious. Sometimes, you can have inaccuracies corrected by contacting the news source, but this isn’t always the right course of action. If they update the page, it can sometimes make it even more difficult to remove the information from Google’s search results. This is because Google’s algorithms prefer new information over older outdated information. So it is often best to have an online reputation management professional deal with the site rather than trying to do it yourself. Often times, attempts to get the news outlet to update their reporting will ultimately prove unsuccessful. They have no reason to update information and there is no government authority that controls what they choose to publish. Freedom of Press means that the law has little influence over the internet or over the types of content that websites can and cannot publish.
That is why one of the most effective means of hiding your criminal records that appear on news sites is to suppress the content. In other words, you need to generate enough content of the type and quality that Google prefers to display over current search results for that term. For individuals, this often means associating their name with other articles, accounts, and information. There are companies, like ours, who take care of this process for you but it can be expensive and time-consuming. Unless you have hundreds of hours to dedicate to creating and publishing content that targets the key phrases that people will be looking for, like your name, then you might want to leave it to the professionals. A genuine online reputation repair company knows exactly what it takes to get the bad stuff out of Google’s first page and how to craft new content that looks natural and promising to anyone looking at it.
Whether you choose to go it alone or hire a team of professionals to restore your image, you’ll want to be sure that the new content is well optimized for search results and that it targets your keyphrases. This is the only way to get published content off of the first page of Google and it takes significant dedication and motivation to accomplish. But getting news mentions off the results pages aren’t your only concern. You also have to concern yourself with the publication of mugshots and criminal records appearing on background check sites.
How do I deal with mugshot sites?
One common complaint that we hear from people is that when people Google them, they find mugshots posted online. This can be one of the biggest online reputational threats for individuals with convictions or arrest records. There are actually mugshot websites that pull photos from county and city police departments with no purpose other than publishing them online. Despite the fact that thousands of people are wrongly arrested or are later found not guilty, when someone runs across these photos they immediately draw the worst conclusion.
While the owners of these sites claim that they are only republishing information that is already part of the public record, the truth is that their only real motivation is profit. These sites will often attempt to charge individuals hundreds of dollars to remove their mugshots from the internet. Some have even disguised themselves as genuine reputation repair companies that offer guaranteed removal in exchange for a fee. Keep in mind that no reputation management company can actually guarantee that another site will remove your content. That’s only possible if they own the site the photos are on. This practice has caught the attention of lawmakers, who have started to take aim at these mugshot websites. Some of these sites have been accused of, and even sued for, extortion. They are essentially racketeering scams preying on the hard times of people.
You should never give your money over to the creator of any website that is publishing your arrest records and information. Because if you do, they will often just republish the information elsewhere. Most of these site operators own dozens of similar sites and when you pay them, you’ll just encourage them to list your mugshot elsewhere so that they can once again collect payment from you. Instead, you should see if your state has any regulations on these types of sites. Many of them have enacted laws to protect your privacy. For example, in Oregon, if you prove that your arrest did not result in a conviction the site is legally required to remove the photo from their database at no charge. In other states, county sheriffs are not allowed to turn mugshots over to anyone who operates mugshot sites that charge for removal.
You should review the laws in your state to determine the best way to get your mugshot removed from the internet. If you were arrested but never convicted, there may be a law that can help you. Even if that is not the case, then you still have options. The same suppression tactics that work on news content work here. But you may have to focus on places where you can upload photos of yourself that you’d prefer people see. Make sure they are properly labeled and tagged so that Google can easily recognize them as you. We suggest using social media accounts and photo sharing sites to upload professional images, which is what we do for all of our clients. That way image search will find and display exactly the kind of images that you would like to appear.
In the future, mugshot sites probably won’t be as big of a deal as they have been in the past. Most of the search engines are taking an active approach to ensure that they don’t appear prominently in the search results. Google actually tweaked its algorithm in October of 2013 with the specific goal of penalizing mugshot websites. At this point, mugshot sites usually won’t rank highly in your Google search, assuming you have taken steps to build up your online presence. That is why it is important to build online profiles and other citations of your name. You want Google to have something else to share. That said, mugshots can still crop up in your image searches and harm your reputation, so you should still pursue removal whenever possible. Plus, it’s always possible that someone searches using something other than Google where the same protections might not exist.
How do I bury negative content?
We’ve already discussed how a suppression campaign can help to eliminate negative information and pictures about your criminal past from appearing in Google’s top search results pages. When you can’t remove something, the best you can do is try to bury it. The idea of a suppression campaign is simple and is already used by major companies and public officials. It works because the average internet user will never look past the first page of results. This is true whether they are shopping for a product or researching a person. That’s why companies pay such good money to SEO services to appear on the first page. If they didn’t appear there, no one would see their product or service. Even someone who has a reason to dig deep will rarely look beyond the first three or four pages. But even that is rare, which is why guarding the first page results should always be your primary objective.
Suppression campaigns bury content on Google by flooding the web with both neutral and positive content. This content can push negative search results off of the first page. If an appeared about a celebrity that condemned them for some behavior, his or her public relations team might contract with several sites to write articles that show him or her in a more positive light. This content would pull focus away from the negative information and allows the celebrity to offer corrections or tell their version of things if they choose. Even if the content is about another topic altogether it can have the effect of displacing the negative information and improving that person’s online reputation.
Of course, it can be difficult to find ways to get your name into news stories, articles, and website titles across the web that will help push pages that mention your criminal history further down the results pages. That’s why high profile people engage with online public relations firms. They hire people that have the connections and tools to make it possible. For the regular person, online reputation repair services are available. But if hiring outside help isn’t an option for you, you should know that everything positive you can publish online has the potential to help. Everything from creating an online portfolio to a LinkedIn account has the potential to take one of the top spots for your name. So does uploading videos and pictures of yourself to your existing social media accounts. The key to doing reputation repair on your own is to keep creating content about you.
This isn’t the end of it, but it is definitely a great starting point. There are still other things that it might be best to allow a professional to handle, like actually removing your information from the most popular criminal background search sites. If you want to do this on your own, there are opt-out guides available online that will explain how to handle most of them. Whatever you choose to do to manage your online reputation, it’s important to keep doing it. Search results can change, which is why online reputation management must always be an ongoing process.
If you need help, there are reputation management services, like ours, that can help reduce the online visibility of criminal news information or arrest records. Most do exactly what we do, they focus on online suppression campaigns. Why? Because they work. This is useful even if you aren’t actually the person involved in the criminal information mentioned online. If someone shares your name though and has been involved in a life of crime, Googling yourself might bring up mentions of their crime. Whether guilty or innocent, protecting your online reputation means controlling what shows up when people search for you. The best way to do this is to constantly flood the web with positive content about yourself. Build a website, engage on social media, and contribute. Where you’re worried about content related to criminal activity or something else, the best way to build a good reputation online is with a stream of positive content.
Wesley Upchurch is an online marketing professional and web developer who focuses on solutions for those convicted of crimes. He founded SearchResults.repair with the goal of repairing the online reputation of professionals after they’ve been charged with criminal offenses. He has been recognized as an expert in search engine optimization, social media marketing, and content marketing and uses that skill set to help his clients. He can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where he discusses reputation repair and personal interests, like playing the Pokemon TCG with his son.