Attempt to vanish articles about North Carolina local school board member’s (now expunged) 2011 arrest

Attempt to vanish articles about North Carolina local school board member’s (now expunged) 2011 arrest

The Sanford Herald‘s Zachary Horner reports (links mine):

A complaint was filed with Google Sunday morning under the name of Sherry Womack, a Lee County Board of Education member, seeking to remove search results related to her 2011 arrest.

The request asked Google to remove URLs linking to The Herald’s April 14 story “Womack addresses 2011 arrest” and four separate URLs from the website The Rant, including twostories, her mugshot and the original arrest report. The articles detail Womack’s 2011 arrest for breaking and entering and her response.

The complaint can be found on the Lumen Database (, a collection of requests to remove materials from websites. The request cites a court order “to destroy all records” of the case.

Sunday’s complaint also links to a copy of the Petition and Order of Expunction for the charge, listed as a misdemeanor breaking and entering that took place on May 7, 2011. …

The process is called “de-indexing,” in which websites or individual pages are removed from Google’s search index. The optimal result for those seeking a de-indexing is that the links cannot be found by a Google search.

What was requested under Womack’s name is not illegal. Google Support indicates that sites can be removed from its index and search results “if (Google) believes it is obligated to do so by law, if the sites do not meet Google’s quality guidelines, or for other reasons, such as if sites detract from users’ ability to locate relevant information.” [But w]hen it comes to instances like Womack’s, which is a libel claim and is a newspaper, not much usually happens….

Multiple voicemails left for Womack were unreturned by press time Tuesday.

Womack is also the wife of Jim Womack, a North Carolina politician who is running for chairman of the state Republican Party.

My view: People shouldn’t be trying to secretly vanish stories about elected officials, behind the backs of voters and reporters, to hide from voters factually accurate information — however unfair and obsolete they may think it to be. And voters should be informed when people try to do this (even if this attempt was likely doomed to failure, since Google apparently doesn’t actually deindex stories based on American expungement orders).

UPDATE: I originally stated that Womack had attempted to get the material deindexed, because the request was submitted under her name, because she would have been the obvious beneficiary of the removal, and because her lawyer had earlier demanded that the newspaper “cease and desist from publishing any story about Ms. Womack that makes any mention or innuendo that she has ever had any involvement with law enforcement in Buncombe County” (i.e., the very materials that the deindexing request was aimed at). But on reflection (after the post was up for 15 minutes) I realized that I should refrain from drawing that inference, and I changed the title and a few parts of the text to focus on what I know — that someone (using her name) had asked for the material about her to be deindexed. My apologies for the initial imprecision.


Published at Wed, 17 May 2017 00:42:16 +0000