The Only Way is Ethics: We must be careful curators

Trying to re-list stories Google has forgotten could make things worse

Share

The debate over the so-called “right to be forgotten” and the impact of May’s ruling in the European Court of Justice raises all sorts of interesting questions.

One of those is whether news publishers whose content has been “delisted” from Google’s search results should seek to have the material “re-listed”, for instance by making small changes to the content, then re-publishing it online. A more transparent way to highlight our concern about the ruling might be to group together all the articles which have been subject to successful removal requests in a more prominent part of our website. 

It is debateable whether the ruling amounts to an attack on press freedom as such: The Independent is not being required to delete anything, after all. But it certainly has serious implications for equal access to information.

Read more: Now we can see where the right to be forgotten leads, and it’s not good
The French ban on the niqab has been upheld. Quite right too  

And given Google’s immense role in our lives, that may amount effectively to the same thing. In either event, the impact of the court’s decision has caused us and other publishers  real unease.

In this context, therefore, it is tempting to go ahead and highlight on our own site those articles which no longer appear in Google’s search results (at least for those using google.co.uk, as opposed to google.com).

But this raises its own ethical questions because, ultimately, we do not know why the material in question has caused such anxiety. It may be that if the people objecting had come directly to us with their concerns we would have agreed to amend the problematic content. We might not, of course. Yet because Google’s handling of the requests it receives is so opaque, we are left in the dark about the specifics of each case.

The result is that by promoting our de-listed material, we could unintentionally cause further distress to an individual for whom we would actually have sympathy. In the end, that seems an unnecessary risk to take, even if our protests against this ruling are justified.

We must be careful curators

Recent research by The Times to mark the centenary of the First World War’s outbreak found some depressing holes in the historical knowledge of British adults.

Nearly a fifth of the people surveyed believed that Britain entered the war to counter the rise of the Nazis. A similar proportion went so far as to think that Germany was led by Adolf Hitler during the period.

A week after the results of the research appeared in the media, the latest instalment in The Independent’s “Great War in 100 moments” series recorded the memories of a teenage girl’s visit to see her brother, a soldier in the German army, at a recruitment camp in Posen.

While the piece was accompanied in our print edition by only a small image of the girl herself, for the online version a picture of the Posen army base was chosen.

Unfortunately, this second photograph was from the wrong era, the small swastika flags in the background not spotted until six night-time hours (and two reader complaints) later. The photo was immediately changed.

But this example also serves as a reminder that there is an ethical imperative to report on historical events with particular care. The media does, after all, have a role in helping to reduce the knowledge gap of those who might not know their Hess from their Hindenburg.

Read next: Iraq crisis: As Shia shrines are targeted and Tikrit is strangled, the fiercest of wars lies ahead
It's not technology that's to blame for the 'Magaluf girl' video – it’s binge culture
I arrived in America on Independence Day 25 years ago as a refugee from low pay in the UK  

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test