In today’s digitally connected world, racist tweets, drunken Facebook photos or tactless emails can come back to haunt individuals years after the fact. With online search results affecting the outcome of job offers, relationships and even home loans, more people are pushing to have a say in shaping their digital narratives.
This is already possible in the European Union, which grants ordinary citizens (not public officials) the “right to be forgotten” on search engines in certain instances, such as if information is outdated or irrelevant. But in response to a recent legal battle, the EU’s top court ruled that search results can only be delisted in individual countries because such privacy laws do not exist everywhere. The decision has prompted some to suggest it’s futile to police a borderless internet.
While some support the “right to be forgotten” because it respects privacy, critics lambast it as a form of censorship , arguing that it’s not in the public interest to rewrite history. In the United States, where free speech is enshrined into the Constitution, the debate has grown even fiercer .
Technology companies meanwhile continue to be inundated with a growing number of requests, which take time and money to review. Google for example has fielded more than 845,000 requests for 3.3 million link removals in the past five years. As the numbers grow, so do concerns about who should decide what gets “forgotten.”
In this episode we ask, should people in the US have the right to be forgotten online? Join the conversation.
On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Frankie Beats, @itsbeats