But Samantha still wasn't out of the woods. Searching for her name and the name of my site produced a number of other hits that were largely out of my -- and her -- control. For example, I had left a comment on a popular tech blog linking back to my original story. I tried to remove that comment recently and could not, because that blog had dumped its old commenting system in favor of Facebook more than a year ago. A Google search on Samantha's real name and the name of my other blog still points to the redacted story, even though her name cannot be found there, most probably because of this link and others like it.
Among the others:
* Some bot-driven online dictionary had a "definition" for her real first name and used the title of my story as part of that definition.
* A tech news publication in the IDG family linked to that story and quoted a piece of it containing Samantha’s last name.
* Someone in Yahoo Answers had linked to the original photo of Samantha on my blog in response to a question about male strippers. The link no longer worked, but it still had her name in it.
* A XXX image-sharing site featuring some truly nasty male enlargement ads had scraped one of the original images of Samantha's G-rated Facebook profile that I had captured and reposted it for reasons unknown. (I emailed the address on the DNS record for this site, asking for that image to be removed; 12 hours later it was gone. Even I am amazed at that.)
The good news is that Samantha is a smart cookie. She knew that the best way to bury bad news online is to replace it with good news. So over the last two years she created a ton of profile pages on social sites like Flickr, Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and About.me, to name a few, and managed to get them ranked higher by Google than the news stories about her unfortunate law suit.
How did she manage that? By continually creating new content and uploading it to each of those sites. This is something companies like Reputation.com charge megabucks to do for people whose online reputations are in tatters. Samantha was doing it all on her own.
The other smart thing Samantha did was ask politely. Many people in her situation would have been angry and made demands, or worse. I've had a few lawyer threats thrown at me lately, and I can tell you that's probably the worst thing you can do to a journalist -- 99 percent of the time it backfires. Samantha's request was so simple and reasonable it was hard to ignore. Had she come at me with guns blazing, I might not have been so willing to accommodate her.