Every so often, I get a request from a member of the public to destroy an item of online public record, something the Times-Age reported on. It could be years old.
Naturally, when there is an error of fact, and people advise us of it, corrections are made. A newspaper is obligated to pursue and negotiate a remedy when something is wrong.
But people are discovering, with the entrenchment of digital media for well over a decade, that their name may pop up on an internet search in a less than favourable context.
Before the internet, a person’s “record” of past events was something that existed in the memory of the community and in newspaper files. If a researcher wanted to be thorough, public libraries, and newspaper libraries could provide links to a person’s past.
Now, Google can provide it. Five or so years ago it was amusing to compare notes and claim bragging rights, on how many hits you had on the internet if you typed in a search of your name.
That novelty has worn off, but your name is still of considerable interest to a future employer, who may not like what turns up in a search.
It is pointless to ask an editor to delete a record. The newspaper is a matter of daily record, and plays a part in the recording of history of the community. I would no more remove a public record than I would scratch out the names on a war memorial.
But there is also the fact that it is extremely difficult to remove an internet record. We’ve had to do it once, in the case of a mistake, and it required a programmer.
Thus it pays to think: the concept of doing something bad, moving to another part of the country and restarting your life is a concept that belongs to novels of the 70s.
When Shakespeare said that the evil that men do lives after them, he was meaning after their death. With the internet, it lives just one mouse click away, right now.
People need to think what will stay with them digitally, that could affect their career, or travelling to another country. I can’t delete those records.
My only advice is: you better be honest at your job interview.