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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Online Transparency Threatened By Digital Editing


Remember life before the Internet and things like Facebook, when you could do daring or dumb things and they wouldn’t follow you for life?  We know how it’s increasingly harder to do something without being tracked, recorded, and put into a search engine – to be recalled by anyone at any time.  We are in a new era of transparency, for better or worse, that will change how we date, consumer services or products, hire, and make choices about everything.  But what if this era of transparency is selectively altered, where some people can edit the public record and thus, recreate our understanding of the events that have taken place?  Imagine if we are allowed to forget the actions of the past.  Our online resume of what we say and do may seem burdening, but it exists for everyone to see or be seen by.  Once we start to alter information, we will have altered the balance of fairness.

In Europe, people can now request, under a new law, that some material posted online can be taken down.  It’s debatable as to what can be taken down and it varies country by country.  Unless a compelling public interest exists to retain such information, requests are to be honored by Google and search engines.

The Internet, already a forum for lies, unsubstantiated claims, poorly gathered facts, misinterpreted data, hoaxes, hackers, identity thieves, propaganda, child pornographers, and criminal activities, now it'll be an unreliable source for formulating complete and accurate accounts of the world it desperately wants to capture.  An edited or sanitized Internet is not a good thing.  You can’t undo the truth.

If you are a rape victim and want links taken down that talk about the crime, one may have sympathy, though the bigger crime is to remove facts from a fact-gathering source.  Who gets to decide what should be “on record”?  The government?  Amateur volunteers?  A corporation with vested interests?

Imagine if people tried to erase what was in a newspaper or to cut out what was in the Congressional Record.  Just because the world is digitized and the ability to edit things exists doesn’t mean we should do it.  Eventually the Internet will recreate what we know of the world and it’ll be a false, incomplete history.

Should more judgment be used by people, media, governments, etc. about what they post or publically disclose in the first place?  Absolutely.  But once it’s out there, it’s out there.  You shouldn’t be allowed to unsay something especially if it’s true.

However, the public, businesses, schools, and society must evolve in how it digests the information that’s out there.  We shouldn’t accept rumor as truth or hold an accusation against someone without due process.  We have to change our standards on what’s acceptable the more we learn how commonplace certain behaviors really are.  We can’t be so harsh to judge or lack forgiveness, for the more that is shared and exposed about us, the more we learn – and redefine – what it means to be human.  There’s more cheating, lying, sexual activity, racism, abuse, addiction and criminal behavior than we realize.  So once it’s uncovered, we may not be able to judge it so harshly.

Should Nazis be allowed to have a website that says screw the Jews and kill black people?  Should a woman be able to post nude selfies online?  Should you be allowed to say the US president sucks?  Can you advocate for a revolution?  Absolutely.  And the public should demand the right to have an Internet free of editing by its participants, free of government censorship, and free of lies or inaccuracies. 

The Internet is moving us towards being a transparent society.  We need to get used to that.  But we can’t move towards it while also allowing, on a select and secretive basis, the ability of some to change  the public record.  The right to remember should trump the right to forget.  We all have a right to the truth – and a responsibility to treat others fairly based on it.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014

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