A California university paid a private company to remove references from the Internet of an incident in which a campus police officer pepper sprayed students, a newspaper reported.
The Sacramento Bee newspaper reports that the University of California, Davis paid a consulting firm $175,000 to get rid of online search results related to a clash with student protesters on the campus in 2011.
The Sacramento Bee says it obtained documents that show the university hired the consulting firm Nevins & Associates in 2013 to “eliminate” Google search results that portrayed UC Davis in a negative light.
The firm was able to identify “online evidence” and “venomous rhetoric about UC Davis” being shared online, according to the documents, and set out to remove the bad press with a “flood of content with positive sentiment and off-topic subject matter,” the newspaper reports.
FILE - University of California, Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi waits to speak during a rally on campus in Davis, Calif., Nov. 21, 2011 after police pepper-sprayed peaceful demonstrators during a protest near the same spot on Friday.
The consultants also worked to remove negative information about UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, the documents show.
In a statement to the Bee, a spokesman for the university confirmed it paid the consulting firm to remove the negative search results.
“We have worked to ensure that the reputation of the university, which the chancellor leads, is fairly portrayed,” UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis said. “We wanted to promote and advance the important teaching, research and public service done by our students, faculty and staff, which is the core mission of our university.”
The pepper spray incident took place November 18, 2011, when protesters affiliated with the Occupy Movement were told to leave the UC Davis campus, but refused. In order to remove the offending protesters from the campus, police officers began using pepper spray into the eyes of protesters sitting down on a campus sidewalk.
Video of the incident quickly spread on the Internet and U.S. media, prompting larger protests on campus with students claiming police used excessive force.