20 May 2014
“A lie can run around the world before the truth has got its boots on” – Terry Pratchett
Do we value talking about people more than we do talking to them? Have we fallen into the trap of an on-demand lifestyle, expecting other people’s business – whether true or false – to be available to us at the click of a button? In light of the fallout from the EU ruling on the right to be forgotten, I think it’s important to step back and take stock of the situation, considering the benefits to us all as internet users.
I’m a huge advocator of the power of the internet for good – for communication across great distances, for education and knowledge at our fingertips, but personally I think it’s a place that’s been unpoliced for too long. And whilst no one wants to lock down the freedom of information that we have, isn’t it equally important that this information is actually relevant and that people can’t hide behind a smokescreen, publishing inaccurate or unfair information about others?
I think Google and the other major search engines will struggle at first, as they’ve been big pioneers of the internet and have had the freedom of the city, so to speak. When you’ve been in this situation and suddenly have to adhere to a restriction, there are bound to be teething problems.
Logistically as well, it’s a massive ask, but fundamentally down to common sense. If something is causing someone damage or is unwanted information, I think it’s better to take it off and ease that pain. You could even argue that Google will be a better search engine for this, as it’s getting them to stand up and be counted and do the right thing. I really believe this gives power back to the consumer, the person who’s actually using the search engine, and that has to be a good thing.
The important thing to remember here is that this ruling isn’t banning anonymous publication online. People will still be able to publish information and I think that’s got to be encouraged. The ruling is also very clear that you can’t remove information just because you want it removed. If it’s there for public interest then it’s going to remain. However, if people publish things that are inaccurate, unfair or irrelevant, then there is a comeback.
If you look at Wikipedia, you’ve got people almost self policing that, and I think we need an internet that does that, in a Utopian way. It’s also a fascinating conundrum for journalists who, for years, have said that they’re protecting their sources when often these people should be held accountable for their comments. Why? Because it’s very easy to be on the receiving end of something when actually it was just hearsay, but then it’s out in the public domain and people just automatically assume that it’s correct. This is about people protecting themselves. It’s almost an anti-bullying ruling!
Ultimately though, I think it’s going to mean that search engines produce better information for people; information that is accurate and relevant. I think it’s great for the internet, great for users and great for the future.