Web pages, including ours, deemed “critical” of Universal Medicine removed from Google Search results

Well, well, well, looks like a certain alternative and controversial “esoteric healing” group was busy for a year or more trying to scrub their image on the internet. Doubtful News is one of many pro-consumer blogs that have reported information about Serge Benhayon’s questionable health treatments resulting in complaints to Google initiated by Universal Medicine (UM) and our URLs removed from Google search results.

Holiday reading – web pages censored by Universal Medicine | The FACTS about Universal Medicine.

For the past two years alternative medicine conglomerate and religion, Universal Medicine, has spammed Google with complaints of defamation. Some succeeded. The following is an incomplete list of URLs removed by Google from search results. It includes links to blogs, including this one, and links to news reports from major media outlets. So much for free speech and a free press in Australia.

The UM group is in Australia. Defamation claims have been made through Google, however, UM has not made any actual legal threats. Hmm, this seems a low-cost, low-risk, easy route to follow to manipulate your online reputation. Even though they seem to have lawyers at the ready, none of the websites received real legal threats. Other sites evicted from search results include many news reports on UM’s activities (including the reports we linked to in our FACTUAL stories). Also, Pharyngula (FTB), Museum of Hoaxes, the JREF forum, Reasonable Hank, and, naturally, “universalmedicineaccountability”, “factsaboutuniversalmedicine” and “universalmedicinecult”. They obviously dislike those sites.

I contacted Esther Rockett who clued us into this interesting news (since we were never informed we were acted against) to ask what can be done. She said there is no appeals process for Google’s actions. Google removes URLs by request without a court order in Australia, New Zealand and UK, but not in the U.S. I wonder why they were allowed to do this, since our site is US hosted and run. But the Internet is worldwide. However, it would take legal action on our part to return it to Google. I’m not going to do that – it’s just an entry in a search query, not the content itself.

Are they a cult? I have no idea. Depends on the definition you use and the truth of such allegations. Some think their religious leaning and practices strongly suggest this. But I don’t particularly care. I just think their treatment, such as esoteric breast massage, is questionable. But I am now going to engage the Streisand Effect by widely promoting the information that questions UM. And, I now think MUCH LESS of them for using such despicable tactics.

Incidentally, Esther notes that UM has not succeeded with a number of their complaints – probably the majority – and none in 2014. We posted this in August and it was not included on the removed list. Good news.

Thanks to Chilling Effects for their work in exposing parties that deliberately abuse Internet rules for their own agenda. Here is the complaint they found from Phoenix Global in January 2013 naming Doubtful News and others. Phoenix Global represents themselves thusly: “We are employed, and authorised to represent Serge Benhayon in relation to all risk services including internet defamation.”

Then they cite the various language they have problems with including the following:

[…] The site makes imputations that suggest Serge Benhayon is operating a cult. These comments are untrue, and not in the public interest. b. Serge Benhayon has never operated a cult. Serge Benhayon have not been charged, arrested, or convicted of any dishonesty offence. Serge Benhayon would not be involved with any offences of this nature. This content has been spread through numerous websites with the intention to defame Serge Benhayon. c. These comments are currently appearing on Google.com, Google.com.au, and Google.co.nz. The comments harm my reputation and cause damage to my business. Google.com.au: The publishers and distributors of this material would be liable for civil damages under the Defamation Act 2005 (Qld). Due to the possible retaliation, and threat to my safety caused by that the claims that in am engaged in criminal enterprises, this violates Criminal defamation sections of Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld). Google.co.nz: These comments are in breach of the NZ Defamation Act 1992.

Liable for civil damages for citing a news source? These people are assholes.

Here is more on their tactics: Defamation claim or censorship – Universal Medicine’s complaints to Google This piece notes that UM legal got one blog taken down, but they reformed on WordPress. Granted, those blogs were far more egregious in their language and clear in their agenda against Benhayon’s model. But perhaps the high search return from blogs like ours in results was a factor for being targeted.

This is a good time to note the posts in question so you can see for yourself that we quoted the news reports that are not under any legal threat:

Universal Medicine movement called a ‘cult’, has unconventional treatments (Updated: Denied it’s a cult) [Notice we even give a link to their side of the story. I’d say that’s fair.]

Universal Medicine continues to be labeled “new-age cult” by some [But not by DN. I don’t make a judgement on this.]

Serge Benhayon | Doubtful News. [They also managed to block the URL for all searches on the site for his name.]

Check out this feature piece on Benhayon and his UM group [PDF]. He sure thinks a lot of himself:

“I know more than any scientist in my inner heart … I know everything about the universe and how it works. I can answer any question about any mystery in the world, any mystery in
the universe.”
– Serge Benhayon’s message for the “New Era”, January 1, 2012

Please share this post far and wide and reproduce as necessary (permission granted) to spread word that this is a cowardly and disgusting tactic that Universal Medicine representatives are using to block fair criticism and consumer information in Australia and New Zealand as well as hurting our hit counts world wide. I’m afraid it will become more prominent, affecting skeptical activism.

And if Google gets a complaint about this post, I am asking that they CONTACT ME (that should be the MINIMUM but this was never done) at editor@doubtfulnews.com and provide justification. This is entirely fair criticism with no libelous content or intent to defame anyone. It is to provide information from outside parties to consumers and interested individuals.

  32 comments for “Web pages, including ours, deemed “critical” of Universal Medicine removed from Google Search results

  1. Barry
    December 18, 2014 at 8:26 PM

    I just did a search for “universal medicine” from google.com.au and the ‘facts about’ and ‘cult’ links also came up on the first page of results.

  2. December 18, 2014 at 8:40 PM

    What does it mean to say that URLs have been removed? I know what a URL is but I’m not clear where the URLs are being removed from? Does that mean if one looks up Doubtful News on Google, no URL will be provided. Or something else?

  3. Autumn
    December 18, 2014 at 8:53 PM

    I don’t know about Australia or New Zealand, but in the UK the removal could be the result of the EU’s very controversial Right to Be Forgotten ruling a while back. If someone feels there’s inaccurate information about them on the internet, they can petition Google to remove the search link, and Google is required to by law, unless the request is obviously frivolous.

    The links are only removed from the European portals to the search engine though, i.e. google.fr. You can still find them by going to google.com, the US version. And to answer jveeds: it would mean that only the articles wouldn’t show up when searched for, not the whole site.

  4. Matthew Baker
    December 18, 2014 at 9:58 PM

    the fact that they have a ‘why Universal Medicine isn’t a cult’ page is far more telling than any other information they have on their website

  5. December 18, 2014 at 10:00 PM

    It means that the removed URLs will not come up in Google’s results when someone searches for ‘Serge Benhayon’ and/or any other terms he’s complained about.

    i.e. Googling for Serge Benhayon will only take you to Serge Benhayon-approved sites if Serge Benhayon gets his way.

  6. December 18, 2014 at 10:51 PM

    If you want notice from Google when they take these actions, you must have a Google Webmaster Tools account properly set up for this domain. With that in place, they will send you notifications of any takedowns that affect this domain. Go here https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/ and follow the procedure to verify you are the owner of this site.

  7. December 18, 2014 at 11:04 PM

    Same here, but from New Zealand using http://www.google.co.nz

  8. Laughing
    December 18, 2014 at 11:17 PM

    Ooohh.. take URLs off of Google. Weak! Like you couldn’t still find them with another search engine or clever use of the right other words. LOL

  9. Tom
    December 19, 2014 at 12:48 AM

    I suppose the removal from the internet search ULR of sites critical of Universal Medicine is the high-tech equivalent of a burning of the books.

  10. December 19, 2014 at 7:49 AM

    I have that. And I’m pretty certain I had it set up in 2013. I don’t recall such a notice.

  11. December 19, 2014 at 7:50 AM

    What I’m thinking is that Google isn’t giving in to their complaints anymore. Anything in 2014 may be showing up.

  12. December 19, 2014 at 7:52 AM

    The guy who runs Phoenix Global doesn’t exactly have a great rep. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-02/former-senior-detective-at-centre-of-ccc-fraud-probe/5712832

  13. December 19, 2014 at 8:26 AM

    Hi, thanks for the write up.

    There was an interesting development today in Australia – Michael Featherstone, the head of Phoenix Global, the security firm Benhayon hired to manage his internet reputation was arrested today as the result of a long running investigation for his part in major fraud, scamming and a kidnaping plot – attempting to pervert the course of justice by heavying a witness. It was not UM related, but indicates the quality of Benhayon’s associates and tactics.

    Phoenix Global had the DN links and others removed from Google search results, and my Facebook pages shut down in several countries. FB also gives no redress, and Phoenix Global refused to disclose the grounds of the complaints.

    To answer some questions – my WordPress blogs are also US hosted. The laws in UK, NZ & Oz allow Google to remove the links from search results in those countries. US searchers still see those links in search results.

    UM succeeded in having a number of links removed, but not all. I was aware they were trying to have me shut down so we continued blogging, and continued to try and get media exposure. They have more than 12 main websites and blogs, with many more pages strewn across the internet. The idea is to populate the net with propaganda to try and push critical sites and news articles down the Google rankings. When punters search for UM, the aim is that they’ll only find the propaganda sites. That hasn’t worked, but only because we didn’t back down and remained persistent with our exposure. Many more blogs and pages have gone the way of the dodo thanks to their intimidation.

    Yes, the complaints appear to have stopped succeeding at the end of last year. Google probably got tired of them saying they were planning defamation action against me. I don’t believe they stopped making complaints. Since May this year, they’ve put up 23 pages defamatorily labelling me a liar and psychopath, with thousands of vilifying comments from religious investors. Other victims, complainants and journalists are publicly called liars. They prohibit critical comments or questions on their sites.

    Say what you want about Universal Medicine. They won’t sue. We’ve proven that. Benhayon does not want to get into court.

    The right to be forgotten law only applies in Europe – but it’s certainly being exploited by cult leaders and other shonks. For some reason our laws allow Google to assist cults and other corrupt groups to censor the net. I wrote to our Attorney General etc. but have not had a response.

    And yes, Universal Medicine has held a book burning.

  14. December 19, 2014 at 8:37 AM

    And by the way, Universal Medicine has a strong foothold in the UK from its base at the Lighthouse property in Frome, Somerset, and the London Clinic, Spherical Living. I’ve written up the Sound Foundation Charitable Trust’s problems with the UK Charity Commission – issued with a compliance plan at the end of last year. http://universalmedicineaccountability.wordpress.com/?s=sound+foundation&submit=Search

    Big money. One donor, who happens to be a charity trustee, donated 1.2M pounds from 2011-12.

  15. Paul
    December 19, 2014 at 8:40 AM

    All the listed sites (includng Doubtful News) are also showing up when searching “Universal Medicine cult” on google.ca

  16. Mr B
    December 19, 2014 at 8:44 AM

    So few people bother with another search engine, though. It’s google or it’s nothing. Google knows this, too.

  17. December 19, 2014 at 8:47 AM

    What evidence do you have that these pages have been removed from Google search results? Are you sure? I had no trouble getting pages of yours from 2012 and 2013, including ones that you list as removed, to appear on the first page of Google searches. Could it be that Google has actually ignored these complaints, and the older pages aren’t coming up as early for some searches (have you checked the search results beyond the first page?) simply because they are older? I wouldn’t think Google would have any interest in obeying every random complaint they get from some internet quack…

    (Disclaimer: I work for Google, but not in Search, and have no particular inside information on this stuff.)

  18. December 19, 2014 at 9:15 AM

    I believe the notices will appear in your Webmaster Tools console, but they won’t be emailed to you unless you enable that. Make sure you have email notifications enabled, and they go to an email address that you check regularly.

    It’s possible that with the various different mechanisms in different countries (“Right to be Forgotten” in EU, various courts in Australia and elsewhere) that Google hasn’t standardized the notification process. It’s also vaguely possible that under Australian law they are not permitted to give notifications of this.

  19. December 19, 2014 at 11:17 AM

    From what I understand, the URLs were blocked on the search for “Serge Benhayon”.

    Also, I wonder if it will show up differently from whatever Google country portal you use, being that they were made to Australia’s portal.

  20. December 19, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    I did a search on https://www.google.com.au for “Serge Benhayon” and got this message on page two.

    “In response to a legal request submitted to Google, we have removed 2 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read more about the request at ChillingEffects.org.”

  21. December 19, 2014 at 1:27 PM

    Ah, okay! Yeah, apparently various countries do require search engines to remove search results in various circumstances. Pretty annoying! I think the US has relatively little of this, so search on the main google.com might (or might not, I suppose) produce better hits. (I’d suggest lobbying your gov’t not to require search engines to do this sort of thing, if you aren’t already and think it’d be worth your time.)

  22. December 19, 2014 at 4:26 PM

    Yes, typically when Google does this type of search result blocking, it is only going to affect the country-specific Google page where the law applies.

  23. December 19, 2014 at 5:40 PM

    Hi David, the Chilling Effects site also has a search function, so you can search for companies and complainants.

    But yes, it’s complicated – depending on the search term the links can and do come up. As DN points out, Benhayon has made sure the links don’t appear in searches for his name.

    Family members of followers often don’t suspect immediately it’s an alleged cult. Most people don’t know what a cult is – but they’ll hear his name a lot and Google that.

    Basically, trying to censor Google can work for one or two isolated pages. It won’t work if the blogger continues to blog or if news orgs continue to report.

  24. Bill T.
    December 19, 2014 at 5:54 PM

    One wonders about the robosity (I guess that’s not a word. “robustness”? It should be) of systems, organizations, etc. that are so sensitive about any negative criticism. One wonders “If you’re so sure, what are you worried about?”.

  25. Craig Payne
    December 19, 2014 at 8:40 PM

    That ruling and Google response only applies to individuals. It does not apply to companies or “websites”

  26. Craig Payne
    December 19, 2014 at 8:42 PM

    I posted this comment on NeuroLogica: “I looked at the DMCA complaints and Google have definitely made a mistake and they should be challenged.
    A DMCA is for the use of copyrighted material which Doubtful News are not doing, so the claims in the DMCA are false. The maximum penalty for filing a false DMCA is $250 000. Doubtful News should pursue this.
    In fairness to Google, they did get 37,063,195 URL removal requests last month, so mistakes can happen.”

  27. Craig Payne
    December 19, 2014 at 8:44 PM

    The DMCA act is a piece of USA legislation; its not applicable to Australia,

  28. Craig Payne
    December 19, 2014 at 8:48 PM

    Yes, you should have gotten a notice in your Webmaster Tools account if you have one; that gives you the opportunity to dispute it.

    Its explained here: http://www.hmtweb.com/marketing-blog/google-pirate-algorithm-dmca/

  29. December 19, 2014 at 11:00 PM

    I saw your comment about DMCA. I think you may have been looking at the chilling effect site search page – those DMCA complaints are from Universal Music. As far as I know Universal Medicine have made no DMCA complaints to Google. They made some to WordPress last year about my blogs, but those were successfully challenged.

    The Google search removals probably don’t apply in the UK, however Google did suspend three or four anti-UM Google Blogspot blogs over the last three years. That extended to the UK. They suspended the whole sites. http://universalmedicineaccountability.blogspot.co.uk/

    If you are blogging activism, don’t bother with the Google platform. Use WordPress.

    I would also like to add – blogging is only part of our exposure. Steven Novella said he’d like to see some serious investigation of UM, and so would we. We have lodged numerous complaints to law enforcement, child protection authorities and regulators resulting in action against UM’s charities in the UK & Australia. The lack of action against UM from the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission was discussed in a Parliamentary Inquiry Report last month, and thank you to Professor John Dwyer of Friends of Science in Medicine for raising issues in the FSM submission. http://universalmedicineaccountability.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/universal-medicine-slammed-by-nsw-parliamentary-committee/

    Unfortunately victims are unwilling to come forward – and the behind the scenes bullying and very public defamation of critics and complainants is a major deterrent.

  30. Mauro Toffanin
    December 23, 2014 at 5:13 PM

    and our URLs removed from Google search results.

    I suppose that the admin of DoubfulNews can change the URL of the various articles removed from Google results. That way DN can easily circumvent that silly almost-censure initiated by Universal Medicine (UM) via Google. It’s not illegal and it’s not agaist Google’s rules / policies. On top of that, if UM wants to censor those new URLs too, then the cult is forced to re-issue their complains to Google (ah-ah!) .

  31. December 23, 2014 at 8:57 PM

    No, I can’t. They are fixed. I could repost them as new but, frankly, I don’t have time for that shit. The point is that they try to block criticism. That’s low.

Comments are closed.