The EU’s court of justice has spoken and now all EU citizens have a brand new shiny human right to exercise. That’s in addition to all the free porn and pirated Katy Perry that has long been our entitlement. The “right to be forgotten” came into practice on Friday when Google launched a webform for people wanting to request the removal of search result links to information they feel is “irrelevant”.
Google boss Larry Page has expressed concern over how the measure will inhibit “innovation”, which sounds like fancy, new-tech talk for “I can’t be bothered with the extra workload”. And Google has not committed to a time-frame for responding to requests, though it has said that they will be considered by a human, not an algorithm.
It remains to be seen whether those hoping to rewrite their online past will be satisfied with their second drafts. I suspect not. Not least because the things which should shame us and the things which do shame us are rarely one and the same. Who would have thought, for instance, that simply eating a sandwich would, for Ed Miliband, be considered humiliating – and in an election month at that.
We will never agree on what parts of the past count as “irrelevant”, as evidenced by a BBC analysis of the kinds of requests already made by UK residents. One was from a man convicted of possessing child abuse images who asked for links to pages about his conviction to be wiped.
Even in the less unusual cases, insisting that all evidence of a past indiscretion be deleted from the face of the Earth (or from Google, which is the same thing) is not the way to conquer embarrassment. For a start, the new ruling only applies to searches conducted within the EU’s borders. South of Sicily, east of Romania and across the Atlantic, they’re all still laughing at your unflattering Facebook photos and taking a vengeful Wikipedia entry as gospel.
In truth, there is only one reliable insurance against the past returning to embarrass us, and it’s not ticking a box on a form. Currently, the only way to avoid humiliation is to cultivate a righteous sense of shamelessness, or, as I like to call it, the And Wot? defence. As in: “Yeah, that’s me on the YouTube video, dancing the macarena with a traffic con on my head at the 253 bus stop … And wot?”
If you lack the necessary front, don’t worry. The And Wot? defence is only an interim solution. As the internet accumulates more and more dirt on all of us, scandal will eventually lose its currency. Then we’ll be free to sort the prudish tittle-tattle from the public interest. After all, it’s not Google’s job to decide what’s relevant.
Why only boys ‘incel’ at school
I learnt a new word on the internet this week. “Incel” is an abbreviation of “involuntarily celibate”, used as a self-description in the forums which were frequented by the 22-year-old mass murderer Elliot Rodger. The exact definition of the word is enthusiastically debated online, but some aspects are constant. Incels are usually male, and the cause of their problem lies not with any lack of social skills but with society at large.
Thankfully, you don’t have to delve too deep into the community’s self-pitying, largely incoherent, mostly misogynistic literature to get a flavour of it. The peer-generated website Urban Dictionary has an entry under “incel”, written by a user who has also contributed entries for “friendzone” and “virgin”: “Imagine being the only kid on the playground without a new toy everyone takes for granted,” writes Indomitable798. “You are allowed to see and touch the toy, but can never play with it or have your own … That’s what it feels like to be an incel.”
A plight deserving sympathy, until you consider something the incels obviously haven’t: imagine being the toy.
There are also plenty of lonely women in the world, who might not be having as much sex as they’d like, but they rarely self-define as incels. Women are too busy fighting for control of their own bodies to start asserting their right to anyone else’s.
Sympathy for the privileged
Isn’t it annoying when circumstances conspire to make you pity someone you’d previously derided? But here we are with Gwyneth Paltrow, the actress who turned smugness into a second career.
Paltrow was subjected to a furious undeserved Twitter attack from Cindy McCain, the wife of former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, over comments she made equating receiving online abuse to fighting in a war. Charlize Theron also caused a furore this week by comparing her experience of press intrusion with rape.
The fact that both actresses were speaking about something us ordinary plebs never experience might make their comments galling, but it’s also why non-celebs aren’t best placed to dismiss their suffering as trivial. In the week that Brad Pitt was punched in the face by a “prankster” and the Duchess of Cambridge suffered the indignity of more non-consensual nudie pics, we must admit that, while celebrity whinging is unpalatable, they do sometimes have cause for complaint.
If only famous people had some safe place where they could vent their frustration without causing offence. Like, say, a secluded Malibu beach mansion, or an exclusive retreat in the Maldives …
The high price of our vices
Our friends at the Office of National Statistics – who’ve to get their kicks somehow – say that vice (prostitution and drugs) is worth £10bn to Britain’s GDP. Or rather it would be if it were legalised, taxed and turned to account. Ordinarily, I’d advocate this very course, but Burning Desire: The Seduction of Smoking gave pause for thought. According to Peter Taylor’s BBC documentary, not only are pension funds across the country heavily invested in tobacco, but tobacco taxes bring in nearly twice the amount of the direct cost to the NHS of treating smoking-related diseases. That kind of collective addiction to a public health hazard can’t be healthy, can it?
Umbrellas out, Rihanna?
Adherents to traditional weather proverbs can now take their thermals off and turn smugly to all-weather clout-caster Rihanna. “It’s the end of May,” complained the pop singer’s stylist in a recent interview, “and we’ve already used up all of fall/winter. It’s over.” Tut tut, Ri-Ri. “Ne’er cast a clout till May be out,” remember?