We live in a world where almost everyone knows almost everything about everyone else. Think about it; if you wanted to know what Brad Pitt was wearing last weekend or where he likes to hang out, there is a good chance you can find it online.
If you want to know about almost every scandal in Washington current and past, you can look that up, too.
Look at how easy that was! With the information age truly upon us, there is very little you can hide without being discovered by a motivated browser. It is fascinating, but also a little disconcerting.
What if you don’t want information about you shared online? What if someone shares an unflattering photo or downright wrong information?
Can you delete yourself from the internet?
Find What You’re Looking For
Had you looked through their Twitter and Facebook pages back then, you would have found that all posts had been deleted (they are, however, back up again now). It was speculated that the band attempted to drum up curiosity and market their next album release.
Whatever the reasons, it is an excellent high-profile example to show you that you can try to delete yourself from the internet.
However, can you completely erase your past?
Can You Delete Yourself from The Internet?
In theory, yes, it is quite possible to delete yourself from the internet. But how long do you think it will take to ensure that there is absolutely no trace of you online? It will take a lot of work.
To give you just a slight scope of what is involved, here is a list of the things you will have to scrub:
- Tags on social media
- Email accounts (past and present)
- Purchase orders
- Banking information and activity
These are just a few of the things that you would need to delete completely. Imagine you are a popular person with a lot of activity online and on your social media pages. How would you stop people from tagging you on images or memes?
Image Via Pixabay
While you can delete your Facebook account and all the images it had of you in it, you will be hard pressed to find those images if your friends had downloaded and saved them on their local drives. They can easily repost them and tag you in them again.
Just like Radiohead tried and failed, deleting yourself from the internet is a Herculean task. Yes, you can delete yourself from the internet, but it will take a lot of work and a lot of time. And, in some cases, a lawyer. But it can be done.
Why Would You Want to Delete Yourself from the Internet?
The reasons why anyone would want to permanently delete themselves from the internet are plentiful; almost as numerous as the people online. Of course, it is all subjective, but some of the most common reasons include:
- You want to remain completely anonymous for some reason.
- You have embarrassing images, comments, articles, or videos you would like forgotten.
- You are running for office and want a cleaner background.
- You want to protect yourself from identity theft.
- You are being cyber-bullied and want to minimize the available data.
- You want to see how life is on the other side (the dark side).
- You have dubious and borderline criminal reasons.
- Events such as the hack of Ashley Madison or the Facebook data breach scared you.
Whatever your reason, deleting images, posts, and other information about yourself from the internet is not a quick fix. It is something you will have to constantly work at for quite a long time. Years, even!
Also, most people who try to do it themselves go about it in the wrong way. There are a few rules you should know about how the internet works as it pertains to deleting information such as photos and other data.
Three Rules for Deleting Yourself From the Internet
1. Find The Original Source
Many people assume because an unflattering photo is showing up in a Google search, you can just petition Google to take it down. However, Google is a search engine, which means that it shows images and information from other websites.
Essentially, Google is showing you a list of the data that exists on the internet, it doesn’t have much control over the data itself.
To permanently delete whatever unflattering piece of data showing up in a Google search, you need to go to the original source.
This means if you find an unflattering photo or an article defaming you, then you need to have it deleted from the host website, which may be a blog or a news site.
This requires talking to the webmaster or site owner. Reaching out to Google for help will not get it done. Once the original webmaster takes it down, Google and other search engines will gradually filter that information out of their search results.
According to their removal policies and guidelines, Google can remove images if they contain sensitive personal information that may lead to identity theft such as pictures of your signature, credit card numbers, or nude images posted by someone else.
If you want Google to remove an image or piece of information from the search results, then you will need to show just cause. Google even goes on to say that if the data you want them to remove does not fall within their removal policies, then you should contact the hosting website’s webmaster.
2. You Need to Ask Nicely
Most of the information or images many of us find unflattering online are on social networks because we voluntarily posted them. If you made a comment or posted an article on someone else’s website, then there is a good chance that you lost the rights to that content as soon as you hit send.
Therefore, it is essential to carefully think about what you post online because if you want it taken down, you will have to talk to the individual webmasters. You will also have to come up with an excellent reason as to why they should grant your request to take it down.
A simple ‘I look fat in those jeans’ won’t cut it. Remember, these people are not obligated to take down that content. But if you ask nicely (sometimes you may have to pay money), they might consider it.
3. Keep Trying!
There are very few ventures that will test your patience in the face of so many rejections and non-responses as trying to take down an unflattering image or video online will. You have to keep speaking up and keep emailing webmasters if you want to see progress.
With that being said, here are the necessary steps to take if you want to see yourself, things, and photos permanently deleted from the internet.
What About GDPR? Does It Make Deleting Myself from the Internet Easier?
The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is a group of laws designed to give citizens of the European Union more control over the personal data websites (including social media platforms) collect and store about their users.
If you are in the EU (or the UK, even after Brexit), this is great news! These laws cover a lot, but the end result is that websites must:
- Ensure information collected is done so legally
- Ensure information is well protected from misuse (and assume responsibility for breaches if they did not do enough to prevent them)
- Delete data upon request of individuals
As many sites are moving to become GDPR compliant, deleting yourself from the internet is getting easier. However, it is still a long, arduous process.
How to Delete Photos from Social Media
Looking for ways to delete an embarrassing or unflattering photo off of the internet? Or, maybe taking down photos of yourself is the first to going off-grid. Regardless of the reason, it can take a lot of work and may even be impossible, depending upon where the photo is or who posted it.
Read on for step by step instructions for deleting photos from the internet.
How to Delete Photos From Facebook
If the photo you want gone is on Facebook, the first thing you need to know is who posted it — you or someone else? Then follow the steps below.
Delete Photos You Posted on Facebook
The best case scenario is that you posted the photo, which means you can easily delete them. Here’s how.
- Log in to your Facebook account.
- Click on your name in the upper left corner to go to your profile.
- Click on “photos.”
- Locate the photo you want to delete in “Photos of You.”
- Hover over the right corner of the photo until you see the “edit or remove” button.
- Select “Delete This Photo. (From a mobile device, select the “three dots” in the right corner of your image for the “delete photo” option.)
Voila, the photo is gone. At least from Facebook.
But, what if someone else posted the photos you want to be taken down? You have a few options.
How to Delete Photos Someone Else Posted on Facebook
Most of the time when you want a photo taken down, someone else posted it. So what are your options?
- Ask the person who posted the photo to take it down.
- Report the photo to Facebook and hope they will take it down.
Unfortunately, Facebook won’t just take a photo down because you don’t like it. However, if the photo is inappropriate or being used to bully you, they will remove the photo if you report it as such. Here’s how to report a photo to Facebook:
Click on “options,” then “report photo.”
You will see a list of options, choose the one that best fits your problem.
If you choose “I am in this photo and I don’t like it.” you will be directed to contact the person and ask them to remove the photo or untag yourself.
If you choose “I think it shouldn’t be on Facebook.” you will see the following options:
Choose the option that best fits your needs. You then must wait for Facebook to make a decision.
Other Options on Facebook
If your photo does not meet Facebook requirements for removal, you have a few other options – you can block the person who posted the photo, so you won’t see it. Or, you can remove the tag so your name is no longer associated with the photo.
To remove a tag on Facebook, click on “options,” like you did to report the photo, and choose “remove tag,” instead.
Remove a Photo From Instagram
What if the image you want to be removed is on Instagram? Once again, the steps for removal depend on who posted the photo.
How to Remove a Photo You Posted on Instagram
- Open Instagram, then click on your profile picture in the bottom right corner.
- Scroll to find the picture you want to remove, then tap to select.
- Click on the three dots icon in the right corner.
- Select “delete.”
But, what if some else posted the photo you want to be removed?
How to Remove a Photo Someone Else Posted on Instagram
It is more difficult to delete an Instagram photo you didn’t post, but you do have options. Start by seeing what photos you are tagged in, then you can choose to untag, block, or report the photo. Here’s how:
- Open Instagram and click on your profile picture in the right corner to go to your profile.
- Between your bio and your photostream, you will see four icons, click the third icon from the left. It looks like a person’s head and shoulders. This will show you all the photos you have been tagged in.
- Tap to select the photo you want to be removed.
- Click on the three dots to see options and click “remove”
- Choose “It’s inappropriate” and choose from the options available:
If you select “I just don’t like it” you will be given the option to unfollow or block the person who tagged you. Unless the photo is against Instagram’s terms and conditions, this is your only option.
Instagram will only remove photos that:
- Include or promote hate speech
- Promote self-harm
- Show pornography or nudity
- Attempt to promote or sell drugs or firearms
- Violate intellectual property laws
- Show criminal activity
- Include violent or threat of violent behavior
Remove a Photo From Twitter
Deleting your own photo from Twitter is simple. Click on the “carrot” icon next to your tweet, then select “delete.”
It is not so simple to delete a photo if someone else posted it, but you do have recourse.
How to Delete or Report a Picture of You Someone Else Posted on Twitter
If someone else posted a picture of you, you can attempt to have it removed. Keep in mind, just like Instagram and Facebook, you can’t have a photo removed just because you don’t like it. But, you can report a photo that is against Twitter’s terms of service.
Here is how:
- Click on the “carrot” icon next to the offensive image and choose “Report Tweet.”
- Select the option that best fits your issue.
If none of these options work, you can also choose to block the user by selecting “Block User” instead of “Delete Tweet.” This will prevent the user from seeing any of your tweets or being able to tag you.
You can also choose “mute” which removes their activity from your Twitter timeline, but does not stop them from seeing your posts.
If the user consistently engages in abusive behavior, you can submit a report directly to Twitter with supporting evidence.
Remove a Photo From Google
Many people run across images of themselves in the search engine and think they can just message Google to take down any offending photos or other data about you. Unfortuanalty, it isn’t that simple.
That is because Google doesn’t own those images, the people who own the sites that host your picture do. (Or at least they should, if they don’t have rights to the images they share you can likely get it taken down.
So, how do you get Google to take down a photo of you?
- Click on the image in the Google search results to see what site hosts the image.
- If you know or can find the site owner, ask them nicely to remove it. (We’ll go into more detail on how to ask later)
- If you don’t know who owns the site, use ICANN WHOIS to find the site owner and ask them to remove it.
- Ask Google to remove it from their search results. This page details how to do that. Keep in mind, this doesn’t actually take the photo down.
How to Delete Your Digital Information
As we have already mentioned, deleting yourself from the Internet is quite possible, but it is an extremely difficult task. That is because it takes a lot of time, resources, and plenty of patience to accomplish.
However, if you are dedicated, it can be done. If you are ready, take a seat and read our step-by-step guide for deleting all the data about yourself from the internet.
Step 1: Find Every Bit of Information on Yourself Online
If you are looking to scrub yourself completely from the internet, you will first need to find all the places in which your name, image, and information appear. This process requires a massive amount of work, and even then, you might not be able to find it all.
Searching your name on Google will give you a long list of the places you appear. You will then have to click on all the search results (we are talking about going deep into the 100th results page on Google and more) to see exactly what it is you need to remove.
Realistically, this is a task you probably cannot do alone. For this very reason, most people hire identity management companies that can help with this sort of thing. They have the resources, skills, and manpower to get it done comprehensively and more efficiently than you can do by yourself.
Once you have a full list of websites that have information about you that you want to be removed from the internet, the next thing to do is start contacting the respective webmasters in control of the content.
Step 2: Find the Right Person or Department to Talk To
If it is your account and you run it, say for example your Facebook page, YouTube channel or Twitter, then you can easily just delete the unwanted content because you retained all the rights to it. After that, you have to hope that no one downloaded it or has already posted it somewhere else.
If, and this is often the case, you do not own the website on which your unwanted content is hosted, then you need to find the webmaster.
Google has a comprehensive guide on how to find webmasters online. While most websites are run by huge corporations who often have editors and content managers who are in charge of their online presence, most sites are run by individuals who may not be so easy to identify. If it is a blog, you can find the owner, but if it is a commercial website, then you might need to settle for a specific department.
The trick is to track down the right person to speak to, or at least the right department. The best person to talk to is someone who has authority over the content and site and is tech-savvy enough to act on your request immediately. The problem is that sometimes you will find people who either do not know how to remove the unwanted content or do not have the authority to do so. The worst part is when they tell you that you have to go through ‘Legal’ for your request to be actualized.
Typically, you can find the necessary information:
- At the bottom of the website home page
- On the ‘contact us’ page
- On their social media handles
Or you could just run a quick’who is’ search to see who owns the websites. Type in“whois www.[the website you’re looking up].com” in full quotes as illustrated and you will find results showing who registered the website. It will often provide you with the right person to speak to about removing your unwanted content.
Step 3: Email the Right People
If for whatever reason you cannot speak to an actual person (always persistently shoot for this) then the next best thing would be to email the webmaster or developer. You can typically find the right person’s email address from the ‘Meet our team’ page on the website. However, if you cannot find their email try a standard employee email format such as [email protected]panyname.com or[email protected].
You can try guessing it until one goes through. If that doesn’t work, try an email hunting tool like hunter.io to get the right addresses.
Step 4: Make an Excellent Case
Unless you have a solid case, in which case you can petition Google to take down content from their end, then your only other option is to ask nicely. You will need to be eloquent, respectful, and persistent. Make a compelling argument and remember they are doing you a favor by removing the content.
The following tips can help you compose an ask email”
- Make the email short and precise. Start by telling them your name, who you are, and what you need them to do (My name is…and I’m contacting you regarding removing ‘x content’ from your website).
- Ask if they are the right person to speak to and if they are not, request that they put you in touch with the right person.
- Give them a comprehensive background on the kind of content you want to have removed and how it ended up online.
- Tell them exactly why you need the content taken down. Humanize yourself so they empathize with you, but do not oversell or you risk coming off as unstable or a lawsuit risk. Some of the best reasons include: the content is untrue, it is harmful to your reputation, it makes it difficult for you to find employment, or it is emotionally traumatic to you and your family.
- Thank them for their time and assure them that you appreciate the favor that they will be doing for you.
- After that, all you can do is wait for their response.
If they say no (for what it is worth, many webmasters will say no) then try and understand their reasons for denying your request. Once you hear their side of things, present them with alternatives, such as:
- Suggest they block the unwanted content from being indexed by Google and other search engines using the robots.txt file
- Ask them to make your name anonymous if it’s not a picture or video with your full face in it
- Offer to pay them
If you get turned down flat by one person, try someone else at the company. You can even go as high as the CEO. It is all about persistence.
It is always a good idea to formally transcribe this kind of email request even if you intend to speak to a real person. An email will give you something you can use as a reference or grounds for a lawsuit later. Remember to keep a clear record of all the people you speak with about your content and maintain proper management of the list.
Step 5: Ask Google to Update Their Search Results
Remember when we said that once the webmaster removes your unwanted content, then Google’s search results will follow suit gradually? Sometimes this takes quite a while. The next best thing you can do is request Google to update their search results. You can do this by going to the Google URL Removal Tool through your Google account.
Screenshot via Google Webmaster Tools.
Once you get to the tool, hit the ‘new removal request’ button and paste the link to the website you want to be updated. Then give Google an excellent reason for the search result update request. Simply choose the “The page has changed, and Google’s cached version is out of date” from the menu. The page will then give you directions to follow.
Usually, this involves entering a word that has been deleted from the live page yet still shows up on Google’s search results. Once you submit that request, Google will get back to you with their decision within 48 hours.
If you did everything right, you will find that your request is listed in the ‘view pending, approved, and denied removal requests’ page on Google’s tool.
Step 6: Overshadow the Bad with the Good
First, we need to mention this solution is not for those who are looking to permanently delete themselves from the internet. Instead, it is only for those who want to better manage their online reputation.
In the real world, it is almost impossible to delete all your unwanted information from the internet. For most people, it simply requires too many resources.
If you cannot get all the associated webmasters to take down the unwanted content and you do not have proper grounds to petition Google, then the next best thing would be to overshadow the bad with the good gradually.
For most people, the reason why they want their content deleted is because they are worried about their reputation.
If that is the case, you can flood the internet with good content about yourself and push that bad content to the third or fourth page of Google, where no one is likely to see it.
This way, when someone searches for your name, the very first things they will see will be the good that you have flooded the internet with in due course.
Of course, the bad will still be there, and if someone wants to find it, they will find it. As the joke goes, the best place to hide a body is on the second page of the Google search results – where no one looks.
Here are the steps to push negative content down:
- Manage all your social media pages and highlight the real social media handles (dubious people tend to create fake social media accounts in your name).
- Connect all your pages to one another to raise their search engine optimization, so your self-controlled pages show up in the search results first.
- Use keyword research to take back your reputation. For example, if your name is ‘Random Guy’ and when you put that in Google’s search box you get positive results but when you combine ‘Random Guy + College life’ you get images of your naked frat parties, then you should take back that keyword. Do this by using ‘college life’ generously within the positive content you create so that only positive content will show up anytime someone searches ‘Random Guy + College life.’
Like trying to scrub the internet of all your harmful content or yourself entirely, managing your online reputation will also take time, patience, and persistence. It is further recommended that you learn all about Google’s search engine optimization (SEO) requirements and stay on top of all the changes they make (every two years or so) to ensure that your deliberately created pages do not get bumped off the top of the search engine results pages.
Step 7: Get Legal Help
Pursuing a legal route should be the very last resort. Suing webmasters can get costly because there are so many, and most of them have a network of other webmasters and people who will be eager to publish the details of your lawsuit on their websites. If this happens, it can cause more defamatory issues or bad press.
But if you feel like this is the best course of action and you can afford it, go for it. You should only get a lawyer you trust. Someone who will give you the whole story and paint the bigger picture for you. Again, this course of action will be costly, adversarial, and can potentially cause you more bad press.
Do You Have a Legal Case?
Before you go ahead with this option, you should at least make sure that the unwanted content meets the following criteria:
- It is a trademark or copyright infringement
- It carries threats of violence against other people
- It has obscenities
- It has child pornography or exploitation
- It impersonates or misuses your identity
- It has confidential information
- It is the source of cyberbullying for you
If your request does not meet the criteria above, there is likely little you can do to remove unwanted content.
Final Thoughts & Additional Resources
If for whatever reason you want to completely delete yourself from the internet, then you can either:
- Complete all of the steps above to for every image or mention of yourself.
- Delete all your social media accounts – and make sure you don’t just deactivate them.
- Close and delete the data for all your email accounts.
- Find a website that helps delete all remaining data, such as Deseat.me or DeleteMe and delete all those accounts, too.
- Toss your smartphone.
- Cross your fingers no one reposts any of the content you had removed.
- Make plans to live off the grid.
The last step is particularly important. Most people do not realize just how much we depend on the internet. We search online for everything from medication to favorite restaurants and even the news.
Yes, deleting your photos, tags, posts, social media accounts, and even yourself from the internet will not be easy. In fact, it is almost impossible to do. But with the right kind of persistence, resources, and determination, you can start the process. In a few years, you might very well be off the internet. Maybe not entirely but gone enough to be almost anonymous.
The steps highlighted here give you the right path to follow towards achieving this end. As mentioned earlier, one of the best ways to go about this is to hire a company that specializes in online reputation management. These are the people who are best placed to help you truly delete yourself from the internet.
Do you think it’s possible to really delete yourself from the internet?
Have other tips to share? Please leave a comment below!