Government overreach and big tech censorship have made it nearly impossible to remove mugshots from the internet in 2023. There was a time not long ago when anyone could remove their mugshots from the internet by paying removal fees to the sites hosting them. A public outcry followed resulting in many states passing laws against charging fees to remove mugshots and big tech companies began suppressing the visibility of mugshots online. In response, mugshot sites changed their business model to one which big tech does not seem to have a problem with. The end result is a system which only allows innocent people to remove their mugshots.
Most criminal cases are resolved by guilty pleas (https://thecrimereport.org/2022/04/08/outrageous-outcomes-plea-bargaining-and-the-justice-system/) which leaves the vast majority of people with mugshots online unable to take advantage of new policies which permit people to get their mugshots removed for free if they beat their case or have the disposition updated in the event that they're not convicted on all counts. This author is one such person and while mainstream media coverage of my cases guarantee that my mugshots will remain online no matter what, I would be outraged at the state of things if all I had to worry about were mugshot sites like a normal person. I recall being arrested on an old warrant in 2012 and paying to have my mugshot removed from a site called PDX Mugshots which scraped the Multnomah County Sheriff's website, but unlike the MCSO website they kept the mugshot up unless you paid $100 to take it down. At the time I didn't know it was also on several other sites also charging similar fees. Despite not considering it worth it to pay those other sites I now feel lucky to have had that option.
Today sites like Mugshots Zone dominate Google search results for people's names despite Google specifically announcing an algorithm update targeting mugshot sites years ago (https://searchengineland.com/google-launches-fix-to-stop-mugshot-sites-from-ranking-googles-mugshot-algorithm-173672). At first I thought maybe Mugshots Zone was too new or just didn't have enough content in the index to have suffered the mugshot penalty but something else seems to be the case because Mugshots Zone has been around for years and has millions of pages in Google. I think the case here is one of a newer mugshot website which has never been caught removing content for a fee. Older sites like Mugshots.com and Busted Newspaper stopped charging removal fees years ago but never recovered their rankings. I have never seen sites previously known for charging removal fees to ever recover their rankings even after ceasing the practice. If you own a site penalized in that way for removal fees your best bet is to start over by re-branding yourself with a new domain name and even that is becoming less effective due to search engines recognizing the content. This is true of mugshot sites as well as sites in other industries targeted by the government, liberal news media, and big tech censors. Those industries, like the mugshot industry, have engaged in a similar pattern of just not removing stuff at all rather than waste time, money, or other resources responding to removal requests. Removal fees are often necessary to make moderation worthwhile.
The news media paints a different picture. It seems big tech, especially Google, defer many content management decisions to liberal media outlets like The New York Times. Over the past decade, the Times has succeeded in persuading Google to censor search results simply by profiling people claiming to have been victimized and asking Google for help. If Google had any sort of spine they would have simply responded by telling the Times that censoring search results based on a site's removal policy is a slippery slope not worth going down. When you agree to remove one type of content for one reason you open the door for more criticism whenever people find common traits between that content and other types of content. Revenge porn is another example being used to create a framework for suppressing free speech online. Many states have passed laws which unconstitutionally restrict your ability to share nude images that other people created and sent to you voluntarily by inaccurately classifying the material as involuntary. If you check your phone and see a nasty image someone sent you, you could go to jail for sharing that horrible image with someone else just because you didn't get permission from the source. Some argue that the source holds the copyright to the work, so you need their permission, but what those people don't tell you is that the Fair Use exception to the Copyright Act allows people to share copyrighted works without permission if they're doing it as part of commentary or criticism. Posting a naked picture of your ex with a comment like, "check out this nasty c***" seems like criticism to me. While it is true that many intimate images shared online were not sent to offend the recipient, that is not always the case. I personally abstained from uploading a picture some guy sent me of his hairy nuts because I was worried he might pursue a revenge porn case against me. As a result, it is much safer for disgruntled dudes to assault my eyes than it used to be because I don't feel free to upload their images with their full names as a deterrent. Still, I've never nor will I ever knowingly host revenge porn because I personally don't like it, but you don't have to like something to admit that it is protected by the First Amendment.
Things started going downhill in 2013 when The New York Times ran a series of stories beginning with "Mugged by a Mugshot" (https://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/business/mugged-by-a-mug-shot-online.html) followed by many similar pieces targeting revenge porn in the years since, blaming PornHub for child porn in 2020 (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/10/opinion/letters/child-pornography.html), and targeting complaints sites in 2021 (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/04/24/technology/online-slander-websites.html). Each series typically begins with a group of people claiming to have been victimized and presents everything from their perspective no matter how inaccurate. Journalists love to put themselves in the shoes of the dumbest people in society because most of their readers are dumb, so if the dumbest 60% of the population could see something happening to them that is how they present it. Better journalists would ideally present it from the point of view of smarter people preferably those with experience running sites like the one they're criticizing because they're the ones that actually know what is going on. In the mugshot case, they profiled people claiming to have been harmed by mugshots who couldn't afford to pay removal fees. In the PornHub case, they blamed PornHub for "monetizing" child porn based on boilerplate advertising scripts that run site wide as if someone must have viewed the content and then chose to run ads with it. In the complaints sites case, they found an extreme case of a mentally ill woman abusing the sites to smear hundreds of people and decided to blame the sites just because they often would not remove stuff for free. They even went as far as to post complaints about their own reporters before adding up the fees charged by various complaints sites owned by different people that they used and presented the sum as what it costs to remove content from complaints sites. The end result of each case was basically the same. Google or in the case of PornHub credit card companies, started abusing their market power to censor the sites. When Google does it they make it difficult for content from the sites to rank for anything regardless of its relevance or use to most users electing instead to prioritize only the users Googling themselves. In the case of credit card companies they often stop processing payments which forces the websites to turn to less reliable payment systems like cryptocurrency.
None of these efforts to censor the web work. They might result in less negative information in search engines but often the result is one copy of the material in question ranking well with only duplicates being suppressed. That one remaining result is usually from a site which won't remove it because the only way to make removals economically viable would be to charge removal fees. There are exceptions but they are typically limited to sites so large that money is not much of an object for them (Twitter, Facebook, other big tech sites, etc.). Fortunately, the mugshot industry is the only industry which cannot legally charge removal fees. People can still pay to remove content from complaints sites but run the risk of not being able to remove the original content due simply to Google rewarding other sites for not offering that option. For instance, if a scraped copy of an article from this site ends up on a site which charges removal fees and someone pays to have that removed, the original will still be here and should rank because this site does not nor has it ever had a paid removal system.
Am I a Hypocrite?
I recently extended the home address block on this site to all categories in order to protect my users from being censored by big tech. The decision was influenced mostly by Google's decision to suppress search results linking to pages containing that information but was also influenced by personal experiences sharing links to such content on social media only to find the links removed and in some cases my accounts temporarily suspended. I'd rather not have to worry about my users suffering similar problems just for sharing links. The home address block should (but probably will not) be temporary. The Supreme Court could have really messed things up recently but instead implied that Section 230 of the CDA applies to users sharing links manually on social media if the link points to content created by someone else. Hopefully Twitter, Meta, and others will respond by no longer blaming users for the content of pages they link to. Unfortunately, several companies with the exception of Twitter seem to be run by those favoring censorship these days and even Twitter still censors people unnecessarily (ex: accounts have been suspended for auto-sharing user generated content despite neither Twitter nor the sharer being legally responsible for it).
As long as I believe that my users will have a much better time getting their message out if it doesn't contain a home address, I don't mind blocking home addresses. The point of this site was not to map peoples homes but to share stories of their deeds. Home addresses are superfluous. They're a nice addition but ultimately not worth it if that addition makes it impossible for people to find your work at all. I feel that by blocking that information I am protecting users from themselves at this point. The important thing is being able to identify people and criticize them for what they've done. If you want to know where they live you can always pay an online background check website for that.
The existence of online background check websites which sell home addresses is one reason why I didn't have a problem posting that stuff in the first place. I felt that by including information people normally have to pay for that I was saving them money. I still believe that. I think that if a Googler searches for "Nancy Pelosi home address" the first result should contain her address so that people like David DePape don't have to pay another website for the same information. Far more people search for Nancy Pelosi and her address than she does, so it does not make sense for Google to prioritize how she feels when finding that information over the desires of other users to find it. DePape would have found that place with or without maps to stars homes websites. The math is simple, if two or more people are likely to Google a name then giving them what they want outweighs the desire of the Googled individual not to see that information. Likewise, a payment system available to anyone is far more likely to help people than one only available to the falsely accused.
Mugshot Censorship is Un-American
The New York Times asked, "If the point of [mugshot sites] is to inform the public, why should the rich and convicted get a pass?" The answer to that question is that giving the rich a pass is a quintessential part of the American dream. The American dream has always been to amass enough wealth that you can do whatever you want without fear of any meaningful consequences. If the best people could hope for from their hard work were simply to be treated just as bad as anyone else they'd stop working for the most part. The traditional mugshot removal system was as American as apple pie.
Allowing the government to dictate what content can be on the internet is fundamentally un-American. Content removal is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment and a speaker has the right to charge a speaking fee. The government has no right to tell speakers that they can't charge a fee to speak about certain topics or impose a cap on how high their fee can be. The same is true of mugshot operators who charged speaking fees whenever someone asked them to exercise free speech by removing a mugshot.
Government overreach and big tech censorship has made it harder to suppress mugshots and other negative content online. If the government were to stop overreaching into the policies of privately owned websites and big tech were to stop censoring the same it would be much easier to remove negative information about yourself from the internet.