When Pedophiles and Search Engines Collide


David Coursey and I have been working on a book about online reputation management for awhile now.  We’d done the research, talked to people who know this stuff inside and out, and drawn on our combined decades of experience in the online world.  I’d have told you that I knew EXACTLY what to do in almost any situation facing someone with a Google problem.

Trust a lawyer to throw me a curve.  I was walking in downtown Dallas with my long-time lawyer, Charles McGarry.  He asked how the book was coming, and then said, “I’ve got a client you might be able to help.  Can I give him your email?” 

Soon, a very nice gentleman I’ll call Michael Unusuallastname sent me an email.  He explained that there were just three people in the country with his name — a professional athlete, him (a real estate investor), and a convicted child molester.  A few months back, Michael had started to notice that people had stopped returning his phone calls — and he was missing out on “sure things”.  Finally, someone told him he should Google himself….and the very first hit when you entered his name and the city he lived in was, “Michael Unusuallastname is a convicted child molester…” 

The story was six years old — originally an award-winning expose of a treatment center for child abusers, published in a newspaper in a city several states away from where Michael lived.  And the  title? “Arrested Development”, just like the sitcom.  The magazine was uploading its archive of content to a new website, and their six-year-old story was suddenly showing up at the top of search engine rankings and hitting Michael squarely in his wallet.  It got so bad that poor Michael had consulted the attorney we share about legally changing his name.

The title meant that none of the standard Googlewashing tools would work — because the search engine algorithms would keep picking up the article and putting it at the top of the search results because the TV show remains popular.  Sure, he could have hired an SEO consultant to get enough positive articles out there to have a chance that someone might see “the real Michael”, but there was no way to get THAT article off the top spot.

Eventually, plain old-fashioned begging convinced the editor of the publication to edit the article to read, “Michael X. Unusuallastname is a convicted child molester…”, leaving Michael C. Unusuallastname the task of making doggone sure that his middle initial was on EVERY document, EVERY email, EVERY social media post, and everywhere else he could think of to put it. 

It was a relatively easy “fix” — but his reputation may never recover.  It’s been a few weeks, and he is working again, though the hit to his income remains. 

And it left me wondering just how exact the science of reputation management is.  So David and I went back to the drawing board, and are re-editing some sections of the book.  We’re looking for experts, those who’ve faced trying to get their reputations back after an online issue, and lawyers who can talk about the legal issues inherent in this problem.  Contact deb at davidcoursey dot com if you have a story to share.  Thanks!

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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9 Responses to When Pedophiles and Search Engines Collide

  1. There are pedophiles who use reputation management or SEO tactics to hide online, making their registry the last thing you see associated to their name. ReputationChanger.com or RichGorman.com specialize in this and make plenty of money doing it. First they hid Rich’s sex offender profile on google under a bunch of crappy articles, lies and finger pointing at the victim. Then they used their company to openly go after “clients”by listing them on their complaint boards and later offering to resolve the issue. This is not a contained matter either. Facebook knows in advance if you have been arrested and convicted of offenses against children and does nothing. Really the only option is if you find anyone convicted of sex with a minor or pedophilia, you should OUT THEM PUBLICLY!

    • debmcalister says:

      Thanks for the comment. Note that my story is about an innocent person – someone who simply had the same name as a convicted sex offender. The problem with using SEO tactics to help him is that the story about the convicted sex offender with the same name would always continue to show up fist in search results, no matter what he did, because of the title (the same as a popular TV series) and the outlet in which it appeared.

      My point is that SEO tactics can only take an innocent person so far, and sometimes plain old fashioned pleas for help are the best option for someone caught in a case of name confusion.

      Regards, Deb

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  7. mem0random says:

    Awesome title, it hooked me right in! I find this a very interesting post, since I can relate to an extent. It’s happen to my friend and to me too, although we have common names. It looks to be an unavoidable coincidence for common names, but rare names got it tough. There is no such thing as bad publicity. I’d use the keywords, meta tags, and content to my advantage by creating my own blog posts regarding the incident. The best solution would be to work your way up the Google ranks and hope that being number 1 outweighs the delinquent. Why go through the legal hassle of a name change?

    I’m very interested in SEO and Internet Marketing, so I’ll be subscribing. Keep me posted on details of you new book.

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