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Revising history

Paul Brannan | 12:21 UK time, Thursday, 22 June 2006

One of the great strengths of the web is its function as a searchable, retrievable archive. The ability to isolate and zoom in on information has made Google one of the powerhouse companies of the last decade.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteBut there's a cloud to every silver lining and that ability to summon up items from the past can cause thorny problems in the present, as we've found on the news website.

What should we do when a reader asks for the removal from the site of something he or she had said several years ago? People's views, after all, can change, and the positions one takes as a young person are not always the same after a few years. With a trend for employers to "Google" prospective employees, those comments could be potentially damaging to future job prospects.

In the past, retrieving such information from, say, a local paper would have been time-consuming and an unlikely recourse for an employer. Now, with the results available in a few seconds, past indiscretions can quickly become public knowledge.

My instinct is to refuse requests for removal; airbrushing material from the past just feels plain wrong and could open the door to hundreds, if not thousands, of revisionist requests. It seems to me that you have to live by the consequences and if you've expressed a view in a public forum you have to accept that it might come back to haunt you.

For the future though, might this realisation of Google-power sound the death knell of the vox pop and phone-in?


  • 1.
  • At 02:57 PM on 26 Jun 2006,
  • Dave wrote:

When dealing with email and websites, one just has to learn to be careful in what identifying information is given if the content is anything other than bland. There are certain things I won't say in email, because it it all too easy to click on "forward". It does help when you share a name with some well-known person because most search engines will concentrate on them.

  • 2.
  • At 04:21 PM on 26 Jun 2006,
  • Sue wrote:

'In future Google might signal the end of vox pop and the phonein'.

If only!!!

I have always been aware of what I was saying and the possibility for it to become public property, even before the internet or I started blogging. The idea that you can have history wiped clean is unrealistic. I think that certain people have always been turned off by the vox pop, but there will always be plenty more to fill the gap. Look at all the people who would still willingly take part in reality TV.

  • 4.
  • At 11:03 AM on 27 Jun 2006,
  • Tim Dennell wrote:

Just to note that Google are discussing how to archive the web on the daily basis so that people cannot only search across the web, but also across the web and back through time.
I suspect a lot of people will have cause to regret certain things they’ve said or placed onto the web. But they need to realise that it is a public forum, just like a newspaper or magazine. (I suspect the tabloids and political parties are very aware of this.)

It may be worth putting something about contributions being archived in the terms of use people agree to when they set up their membership.

I note that some US Media are insisting (as far as they can) that people contribute under their real name – not a pseudonym – to help people take ownership of their contributions. I wouldn’t mind seeing this adopted by the BBC.

  • 5.
  • At 02:45 PM on 27 Jun 2006,
  • Laura Bayes wrote:

I believe that Mr. Brannan is right; people need to accept that what they have said or expressed a belief in (in any way) is a part of their past and who they are, and that everybody has said or done something in the exuberance of youth that they probably don't agree with any more.

In return, prospective employers must take this into consideration when 'reading up' on their interviewees.
If a comment or fact found is of concern, then yes, employment should be at their discretion, but they must remember that certain (more ridiculous) statements should be taken with a pinch of salt.

A balance of common sense from BOTH parties is definitely needed surrounding this issue.

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