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Google Goes Bad

A member of our newsroom stumbled upon what could be a big problem for webmasters and producers on news websites.

We covered the story of a man who was arrested for exposing himself to children.  A producer was googling the story when he stumbled across something strange.

Our story was listed as the main link in Google News but there was a picture from the NBC affiliate next to it.

Google's crawl created a big legal error

The problem was: The guy pictured was not the suspect.  This guy is…

Even though the bad picture didn’t come from our website, we were still concerned that we would be associated with this problem.  We weren’t sure who the person was and obviously accusing the wrong person of a sex crime is something we like to avoid.

First, I discovered how difficult it was to get this image removed.  I couldn’t find any option in Google to flag an incorrect image.

Eventually, we were able to figure out where the problem came from and who the incorrectly identified person was.

When Google crawled the site, for some reason they didn’t pick up the main image to the story which as the suspect. My theory is KSL first published the story without a mugshot or other image attached.

Since there was no image when Google crawled the website, it picked up the first image in the story body on the page.  The image of the article writer, KSL.com’s Managing Editor, Josh Furlong.  I never noticed his bio at the bottom of the page until someone pointed it out.

Our assignment desk called KSL’s desk to let them know about the problem.

I’ve never been a fan of adding the writer’s face to web articles.  I’ve seen newspaper articles where the writer’s picture is right below the headline and makes it look like they are the subject of the story.  It always seemed like a vain and unnecessary exercise to put a staff picture on a story.  I removed the images the ABC4.com website because I thought it was useless clutter.

This crawl error is an even better reason to resist staff photos.

Putting any photo in a story instantly ties that photo to content it sits around.  If you are a crime reporter, your face will forever be associated with murders and sex crimes in the eyes of search engines.

It’s a more common problem than you might think.

For example, I take a lot of photos to illustrate stories on our website when I notice low quality images I want to touch up.  A google image search for my name pulls up a number of these images.  Most of them are pictures of website or compositions I created.

Thankfully there’s nothing that makes me look like a criminal.

If you are a webmaster or write for the web, I would be very careful what you associate your image to.  You don’t want to get tied to a crime you never committed like Mr. Furlong did.