Whose responsibility is the right to be forgotten?

This fall, Europe’s highest court ruled that the “right to be forgotten”—a European move to make sure that false or damaging information does not dwell forever online—must remain limited to domains in the European Union only.

The ruling means that search engines such as Google need not comply with requests to de-link or remove personal information, unless they come from within the EU. And that any information that is removed will still be available when searching from outside of its borders. While of course you cannot force other nations to follow laws they themselves have not adopted, it does render the removal of that information somewhat pointless.

The debate is likely to continue. The right to be forgotten has only existed since 2014. And it’s eminently likely that many more cases will be brought, and will broaden its scope. But the heart of the debate remains who, exactly, should be responsible for managing information online.

Google is desperate to avoid this immense responsibility (in the same way it is desperate to avoid any responsibility for anything). Since the “right to be forgotten” was adopted in the EU, it has already received 3.3 million requests to take down links. And though newsrooms are often responsible for generating the information in question—outdated criminal allegations, for example—they’re also over-stretched, and not the ones supplying the stories to billions, or profiting from them.

But a few American newsrooms are leading the way. They’re putting moral considerations above financial ones to implement their own policies for unpublishing and amending pieces.

The Gazette, a daily newspaper published in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, guides readers to an “Article Removal Request” form designed for people accused of criminal activity in stories. They ask only that the person themselves makes the request, that the charges have been dismissed in court or that the person has served their time and/or had the charge expunged from their record.

And the Cleveland Plain Dealer, provides an email address (“tobeforgotten@cleveland.com”) for individuals to send requests to.

But they are in the extreme minority.  A September Nieman Lab article, pulling info from research conducted by PhD candidate Deborah Dwyer, stated that “80 percent of news outlets surveyed had established unpublishing policies, but almost half of those were not in writing and only two percent were shared beyond the newsroom.” 

For now, as detailed previously, most people who have a good reason to want their information taken offline will be ignored. And that is an argument for more newsrooms taking responsibility for their work. And for the US adopting similar legislation to Europe, sooner rather than later.

Below, more on the right to be forgotten:

Other notable stories

  • Is local news dying? According to an op-ed published in Poynter by Kristen Hare, the answer is no. In her opinion, the more accurate description of the state of local news is that it is changing to adjust to the new landscape. This means traditional methods of sustaining local newsrooms, such as ad revenue and paper sales, are being replaced with subscription fees, philanthropic funding, and partnerships with national newsrooms.

  • It’s December, and that means a slew of investigative stories will soon be published. The reason? In order to be considered for a 2020 Pulitzer Prize, a story must be published by December 31, 2019. A Quartz article reported that in the last five years, 23 percent of Pulitzer winning or finalist entries were published in the month of December.

  • According to a Buzzfeed investigation, US Border officials are issuing fake court notices to keep out immigrants who have been granted asylum. But the Department of Homeland Security has denied the allegations via social media, calling the story “fake news”.

  • A Houston Chronicle investigation that probed misconduct within the Houston Police Department’s narcotics division has led to prosecutors reviewing a 2013 drug possession case in which an officer told a local judge he used another cop as his confidential source.

  • After receiving $3.1 million in funding ($1.56 million from Google News Initiative and $1.56 million from the American Journalism Project), Berkeleyside has announced a plan to launch an Oakland news site in the spring of 2020. Simultaneously, Berkeleyside is in the process of becoming a nonprofit focused on delivering “civic-minded local reporting more broadly.”

  • The British Prime Minister hid in a fridge to avoid a journalist on the eve of a pivotal election.

  • Six months after promising it would take a “hard look” at its hate speech and harassment policies, YouTube has announced that it will expand the criteria for what is considerable for censorship by the platform. But, as Vox notes, actual change “will largely depend on execution rather than policy.”

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Akintunde Ahmad is a CJR Delacorte Fellow. Follow him on Twitter @akintundeahmad.