Here’s one big, obvious piece of advice everyone needs to hear: You can’t control the use of your photo once it’s released to the Internet. It’s like trying to put the same air back in a balloon, it just doesn’t work. Once anyone on the Internet can see a photo, they can save it, copy it, edit it, trade it like baseball cards. The best way to get a photo off social media is to never put it up in the first place.
You can also be proactive in making those photos less of a concern. Even if it’s a photo you want on the Internet, does it really need to show your face, your kids, or your car’s license plate? Crop or edit out details with a simple black rectangle before uploading the photo. This can ensure that no matter what happens to the photos later, the damage to you is minimized.
The first trick to know is that, via the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, websites are obligated to comply with any takedown request based on copyright claims. Technically, you own the copyright to all media you produce. Big websites get tons of these notices on a daily basis, and many of them don’t check every individual claim. So go ahead and send one, it just might work with no further hassle.
“Right to be Forgotten”
A different European Union law allows you to request an image be purged from search websites such as Google. As long as you are the original subject of the photo, you can request it be purged. Remember, this won’t remove the photo from the source, but will retard its occurrence in search results, making it harder to find. It could be a satisfactory alternative.
It is possible to simply email the website administrator and ask nicely if they’ll take the image down. For the most part, websites have no real motivation to refuse; it’s not like they’re going to run out of images to show and they have a natural drive to maintain goodwill with their user base. Just be advised that the problem might have a technical aspect. If you uploaded a photo to Facebook, they might have duplicated it to thumbnails, stored it in their memories database, and so on. It takes work to scrub all record of an image from the Internet.
For a last resort, if a website simply refuses to take down a photo of you and you have a legal argument that it violates some right of your according to your local laws, you can file civil action against the site. You have a claim usually if you can argue the photo hurts your professional standing, is a personal embarrassment to you, compromises your personal information, or whatever legal claim is available in your area. Lawyer up and file! Here again, most websites don’t have much reason to refuse you.