Right To Be Forgotten Should Be About Correcting Harm And Reputation Management, Not Restricting Speech
In our digital age / third-wave society, the concept of privacy has changed.
Many may even say that it has been diluted or diminished to the point where there is almost no expectation of privacy.
Younger generations routinely share information in ways that would make adults faint.
Today, people build social media and digital histories that showcase every aspect of their lives, warts and all.
But does this mean the importance of one’s reputation has weakened?
Not at all.
Nor does it mean that people should have less responsibility about what information they share online about themselves or others.
If anything, the spread of online information has increased the importance of monitoring and managing one’s reputation online. Eliminating negative, and potentially damaging information (to your personal and professional life), has become a mini-industry. It impacts local businesses, large corporations, brands, and individuals.
When it comes to personal and professional information, I have been, and remain, a huge advocate of establishing a “right to be forgotten” online. In my view, it is a principle that is, at its core, fundamentally American (though I concede that my definition of “American” may differ from others).
When I read the Zero Hedge story about New York state Assemblyman David I. Weprin‘s bill to establish a “right to be forgotten” online, (see New York Assemblyman Unveils Bill To Suppress Non-Government-Approved Free Speech) I was interested to learn more about it.
The Zero Hedge headline raised some alarm bells for me, because while I am a staunch advocate of a digital code of ethics and reputation management, I also value free speech. Under no circumstances should “right to be forgotten” legislation impact free speech.
In reviewing the article and Weprin’s bill, the problem I have with the legislation is that it goes beyond what is necessary to establish protections for people online by requiring “people” to remove ‘inaccurate,’ ‘irrelevant,’ ‘inadequate’ or ‘excessive’ statements about others that are posted online.
Normally, “right to be forgotten” legislation or regulations place the responsibility of removal exclusively on search engines, such as Google. The European standard, for example, does this and by all accounts works rather well.
In many ways, placing the burden on a search engine makes more sense and is more manageable. While anyone can post information on a website, it is a search engine that indexes the data and makes it available to a mass audience. Hence, the search engine can use its algorithm and other technology to block indexing of specific content. This has the affect of removing it from public view, without requiring the content to disappear forever.
Weprin’s legislation does things that are extreme and nonsensical. For example, how can you really define something as irrelevant? Instead of focusing on personal and professional harm (vs the general benefit of society’s right to know), deciding if something is “no longer material to current public debate or discourse,” is a dangerous and highly subjective standard.
Even the phrase “legal matters relating to violence,” is incredibly broad, and could prevent people who are either the victims of violence or the victims of false accustations the ability to have such information removed.
Free speech advocates are absolutely correct to protest Assemblyman Weprin’s legislation.
While I do agree with Tyler Durden that there is no “right to be forgotten” in the abstract, I disagree that such a law is unnecessary. Accusations, court filings, inaccurate and false information online can cause irreparable harm to one’s personal and professional relationships, which coincides with a great many freedoms we value in this country.
The goal of a legitimate and effective “right to be forgotten” law is not to censor speech, or ensure total anonymity from the world. But rather to provide some measure of balance and recourse to individuals who want to protect their reputation from unreasonable aspersions, and harm. To accomplish this – I do think the Europeans have done something very good that I want to see replicated – simply – in states across the country.