Should The Media Voluntarily Embrace A 'Right To Be Forgotten'?
from the difficult-questions dept
It should be no secret that I’m not at all a fan of the right to be forgotten, which is a European concept, as currently employed, that allows people to get old news stories about them removed from search engines (there’s more to it than that, but that’s the basic explanation). To me, it seems like an attempt to bury history and facts, and that’s dangerous. We’ve also seen too many cases of people trying to abuse it to hide spotty historical records that deserve to remain public. However, the excellent Radiolab podcast a few weeks back had a fascinating episode exploring the idea of the news media voluntarily agreeing to “forget” certain stories. More specifically, last year, Cleveland.com adopted a policy that would let people apply to be “forgotten” by the online news publication. They invited Radiolab folks to be present for one of the meetings where the staff debates applications.
And it was a lot more interesting and challenging than I initially thought. Indeed, it brought back the conundrum I faced a few years ago, in which we weren’t sure how to deal with someone who made a very compelling case why we should delete a story about them. We refused, and were also troubled by the fact that that story involved a federal court case that was then disappeared by the court itself. Courts shouldn’t be disappearing public dockets like that. But, in reporting on that, given the compelling argument that had been made to us, we didn’t highlight what the original story was or who the person was — because of an inherent recognition that this person didn’t deserve any more trouble.
I’m still quite uncomfortable with the idea that a media organization would agree to go back and change stories to remove names (or, in some cases, to delete entire stories), as that is (again) a rewriting of history. Because that can certainly cause lots of other problems down the road as well. But the Radiolab episode is still worth listening to, as it does a really good job of laying out the difficult choices and tradeoffs, and the challenges that Cleveland.com takes on in making those decisions — weighing a bunch of different factors.
In many ways, it’s another side of the whole “content moderation” debate, and how various platforms should make decisions on moderation. There are many, many difficult choices and no easy answers. I still find the overall concept of the Right to Be Forgotten quite troubling — especially when it’s enforced by the government. However, it’s interesting and informative to learn about Cleveland.com’s thoughtful approach to the matter, even if I’d probably come down in a different end position.