Journalists Have Mugshot Websites, Too
Often when we talk about mugshot websites we’re talking about a scraper site that makes its living by extorting money from embarrassed victims. These kinds of sites seem to be in trouble thanks to recent actions by Google and the credit card industry which seem to be poised to shut down these sorts of sites.
But there is another type of mugshot website. Many online newspapers and independent blogger-journalists set up mugshot websites as well. They don’t accept money to take down photographs, and they add editorial content. They make their money by selling advertisements, instead.
Some of these websites have been caught up in Google’s new penalty against mugshot websites. Those that did are probably using the same “scraper” model that the extortionists use. Others get their content directly from police departments and upload it, which is not a violation of Google’s guidelines and may suffice to keep them clear of penalties.
In the end, however, it hardly matters. If there’s even one highly visible mugshot website out there with your photograph on it, your reputation is in danger. The sites that weren’t hit by the Google penalty are still ranking well, and the sites that have been hit haven’t gone away. They’ve just lost prominence in the SERPs.
Indeed, journalist’s sites can be a lot harder to deal with than run-of-the-mill mugshot websites. Journalists are far less open to removing content. It can be done, but it usually can’t be done by the victim. Journalists make their money by generating enough clicks and page views to attract advertisers, which means that removing content is even more detrimental to their goals than a garden-variety mugshot website.
If you’ve been targeted by a journalist’s mugshot website you will often have no choice but to pursue removal with the help of mugshot removal professionals. These professionals will simply have more avenues to try, more time, more patience, and more “clout” than you will. At the very least, they may be able to get the journalist to de-index your page, which would keep your photo in their archives but effectively remove it from Google.
In addition, you’ll need to create a virtual firewall which gives people something other than your mugshot to look at when they search for your name online. This firewall is a broad based content strategy which fills two to three pages worth of top results with positive things or neutral items. After all, you don’t have to bury the entire mugshot website to keep your mugshot out of the public eye.
You just have to bury one mugshot: yours.
Google Taking Action Against Mugshot Websites
Mugshot websites have always engaged in practices that Google claims to despise. Most of them are “scraper” sites that don’t generate their own content. Instead, they steal content from other sites and present it in their chosen format. Other scraper sites have been penalized in the past.
There is no telling why Google didn’t pay attention to mugshot websites up until now. But a recent algorithm change has now penalized these sites, denying them top placement on the SERPs page for the names of the people whose photographs they display.
Better late than never.
There’s been a lot of uproar about this algorithm change. Some people even claim that Google is violating the First Amendment Rights of these website owners. But that would be a gross misunderstanding of the situation.
The First Amendment
The First Amendment prevents Congress from passing laws which restrict freedom of the press. It doesn’t stop a private company from doing what it pleases with its own algorithm. It doesn’t matter that a lot of people use the company’s services. Google isn’t Congress.
Google’s algorithm also does not stop mugshot websites from saying whatever they want to say. Google is simply refusing to continue to reward mugshot websites for the content they choose to present.
It’s not about the Content
Google isn’t even penalizing mugshot websites because they disagree with the content of the sites. These sites are being penalized solely for their failure to follow Google’s guidelines.
A mugshot website that uses Google’s guidelines could, theoretically, still get top placement on the SERPs. It just so happens that there are no mugshot websites, as of right now, that are doing that. Why would anyone want a mugshot website to get an advantage that honest business owners do not receive?
The Content is Still There
The mugshot website content isn’t gone. It’s just buried on page 17 or page 18 of the SERPs. It’s simply no longer the first content that people see when they type in the name of someone who has been arrested in the past.
In fact, someone who is aware of those sites and who likes to use them can still type in the URL of the site to view any mugshot they want. That’s why Google’s algorithm shift isn’t much of a panacea for those whose reputations have been negatively impacted by the mugshot industry.
In fact, if you have a mugshot on the Internet you can’t rely on the “Google solution” at all. It’s still important for you to pursue mugshot removal if you want a clean reputation online. It’s still all too easy for people to “dig up the dirt” of your past.
Separating Personal and Professional Social Accounts: Is it enough?
As a job seeker, you may have heard advice that tells you that it is important to separate your personal social profiles from any professional ones that you may be maintaining. This is often presented as a method to keep you out of social media trouble: you talk about industry news on one account while feeling free to discuss Friday night’s party on the other.
On the surface, this isn’t bad advice. But is this separation enough to protect your online reputation and your career?
Separating accounts to protect your reputation relies on two faulty premises.
The first is that employers and potential employers will respect the boundary that you are trying to create. You are essentially hoping that they will find and focus on the “right” profile while completely ignoring the personal profile.
The second is that anything you say on a personal profile is permissible or forgivable simply because you’ve designated this account as your “personal” account. That’s not the case. If anything, employers will believe that your personal profile is containing all of the things that you’re “hiding from them,” which will tend to convince them to give it more weight, not less.
Certainly, you don’t want to flood your professional profiles with photos from your nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. If you’re keeping all of your social participation innocuous then there’s certainly a place for the separation of profiles.
It’s simply not enough to separate them. Separate them with the idea that your employer or potential employer is either looking at your personal social profile, or wants to. And respond by refusing to post or to become involved with things that could cause you problems at work. Anything from drunken photographs to political opinions to gripes about your boss could cause problems, so skip it on both profiles.
And if you have been relying on the “personal/professional profile strategy,” be sure to clean up your personal profile. Evaluate and remove anything that could cause problems in the future. Just because something hasn’t hurt your online reputation yet doesn’t mean that it may not become a problem later, and employers are finding more and more ways to get at the information you least want them to see.
Is Mugshot Removal a Scam?
There is a lot of confusion about mugshot removal. Some people are going so far as to call it a “scam.”
In exactly one case, the critics are right. But there are three ways to tackle the problem of online mugshots.
The first method is the method most people try. It also happens to be the scam.
This method involves going directly to the website to get the mugshot removed. You pay several hundred dollars, and that one website removes the mugshot.
Then, another site posts the mugshot, sometimes the very next day, and demands another couple of hundred dollars to remove it. You stay on this merry-go-round until you’ve paid thousands upon thousands of dollars. There are some 40 mugshot websites, and most of them charge $200 to $400 for removal.
If you try to do this you might just have to work your way through each and every one of them to see the mugshots disappear—if you ever do. The process can take months, and the damage to your reputation will have made a significant impact in your life after so much time has passed.
How does this happen? Understand that some mugshot websites actually supply other mugshot websites. For example, Arrests.com supplies up to 10 websites, who in turn may themselves supply other websites. Many of these sites actively work together behind the scenes.
Some of these shady companies will actually solicit you. They claim to be “reputation companies” or “mugshot removal” companies, but they’re really just the sites. You can tell, because they won’t offer any other service and will typically talk about removing your mugshot from one site instead of removing it from all of the sites. You can tell, because they won’t offer any other service and they will typically talk about removing your mugshot from one site instead of removing it from all of the sites.
The Legal Route
You can opt to get the help of a lawyer to get your record expunged. Some mugshot removal sites will remove the mugshot for free with proof of expungement. Some won’t, or will still charge you a fee, which sucks you right back into the scam.
Expungement is a good idea for other reasons (it clears your name on professional background checks that have nothing to do with Google searches) but it won’t help you get your photograph off the mugshot website network.
The Professional Route
Real reputation management companies target mugshots at their source to get them off of the Internet for good. We get those mugshots removed from all of the mugshot websites at once, often in 72 hours or less.
Yes, there’s still a fee for these services, but it’s far less expensive than what even one mugshot website charges, let alone all 40 of them. And unlike dealing directly with mugshot websites, the results are actually permanent.
In addition, real, trustworthy reputation management firms provide a host of other services, ones that can help you build a strong, positive reputation online. That’s how you can tell the difference between scammers and true reputation management firms—and how you know your money won’t be wasted.
Mugshot Websites Are Not Bound by an Order to Expunge
One of the reasons why mugshot websites can be so hard to deal with is because they aren’t necessarily bound by the same laws as public officials. For example, criminal defense attorney Ryan Rooth of Tampa, FL, explained in one blog post that an Order for Expungement places obligations on the Clerk of Court, the police department, the county jail, the Department of Law Enforcement and the probation department.
But it does not place a single obligation on any mugshot website.
Newspapers – even online newspapers – may need to protect themselves from libel law suits by being careful to publish disclaimers explaining the difference between an arrest and a conviction. They also generally publish at least a few lines to follow up when a person has been declared “not guilty.”
But mugshot websites are not in any danger of a libel lawsuit, and they make their money by dragging names through the mud. They prefer the perception that you are guilty if arrested, period.
Certainly, it’s worthwhile to pursue an Order to Expunge. Such a thing affects more than your online reputation. “Arrest records” still show up in background checks, and that might affect your employment chances as much as a tarnished online reputation would. It’s simply important to be aware that such an order won’t stop a mugshot website from attempting to exploit you. They will still charge hefty removal fees, even to the innocent, and they’ll still pass your picture from site to site. In fact, some websites try to make you produce an Order for Expungement before they’ll even offer you the option to have your photo removed if you go to them directly. The people who run these sites tend to believe that you deserve what you get and aren’t that willing to help unless a third party approaches them.
The law has been unsuccessful at holding them accountable. Google is not holding them accountable either, even though Google says that they hate scraper sites. For some reason, mugshot websites are escaping all of the normal penalties. Perhaps this happens because they hide behind claims of being a “public service.”
So in order to get your life back, you have to approach your arrest records from two angles. You need to pursue the Order of Expungement to deal with background checks and law enforcement. And you need to get the help of a reputation management firm to deal with the information that’s out there about your arrest on your internet.