I’m covering the recent E.U. court decision that Google needed to remove “irrelevant” links from its search results over at The American Conservative today.
While truth has usually been a defense to charges of libel, Google is running into a higher standard in Europe. The European Union Court of Justice, considering the threat that Google can pose to privacy, seems to be applying a standard closer to the “Is it True? Is it Kind? Is it Necessary?” test.
In the press release announcing their decision, the European Court ruling found that Google was trampling on a right to be forgotten. Even if the information Google was linking to was accurate and lawfully published, Google and other search engines could be at fault for making that information too easy to find. Google wouldn’t have to purge this information preemptively, just in response to complaints, but, still, acceding to this ruling would still be tremendously difficult…
If Europe has an expansive view of the right to be forgotten, America has a sprawling understanding of the right to information. Anything that enters the public sphere, even phone calls recorded illegally, can be fair game for public comment and calls to action. Simply leaving your house and going to WalMart is enough to put you in the public eye as a public figure to be discussed and disparaged on People of Walmart.
Just because information is easy to come by, through Google or any other source, doesn’t exempt us from responsibility for seeking it out and acting upon it. Instead of depending on a right to be forgotten, our society is healthier when people choose to avert their eyes or look with charity.
I used to have the RSS feed for The Daily What in my feedly, which was pretty much a feed of “things the internet finds amusing.” I followed it mostly for the cute animals, humorous juxtapositions, and interesting music videos, but, since I couldn’t filter the feed for just those posts, I also got a number of links about celebrity mishaps or, worse, ordinary people embarrassing themselves in some picturesque way. I wouldn’t have sought these links out, but, when they just turned up in my stream, I did click through some proportion of the time.
Rather than engage in a daily battle against temptation, I decided it was easier to just purge the site altogether from my feed, and now I rely more on TYWKIWDBI, Mblume’s tumblr, and other such sites of links where the sweet is not mixed with gall.
Sometimes it is appropriate for bad information (particularly information that is actually untrue) to be purged at the source, but, in day to day life, we can do more to limit the prominence of information that is questionably “in the public interest” by not taking any interest in it ourselves.