Removing cyber slander of private citizens does not interfere with Freedom of Speech

By Elena Stuart

Almost everyone Googles their name. Most find a display of information that tends to be nothing out of the ordinary while others run into slanderous posts. These individuals face off against tech giants like Google for the right to be forgotten.

“I feel violated…each time I go on Google,” a New York student shared with New York Post journalist Julia Marsh in the article “Revenge porn victim wants US to adopt ‘right to be forgotten’ law” published in January 2016.

This student was  suing Google and other search engines after her ex-boyfriend posted pornographic footage of her without her consent.

The right to be forgotten refers to a European court ruling from May 2014, which holds search engines accountable for handling personal data. On the contrary, in the United States a provision of the Communication Decency Act makes search engines not liable for search results.

Google has no obligation to adjust its search algorithms to protect the privacy of nonpublic individuals.

Since the right to be forgotten was enacted in Europe, word spread about Google being forced to delete unfavorable data from its search results anytime a private person made a request.

According to information provided by European Digital Rights (EDRi), in  “Google’s forgetful approach to the ‘right to be forgotten’” published in December 2016, nothing is deleted or removed from Google’s index under the ruling.

Google merely de-links individuals’ names from search results and does not interfere with historical records.

People who ask search engines to remove links to inaccurate, inadequate or irrelevant personal information are judged on a case-by-case assessment.

Balanced against other fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and of the press, the ruling is not in conflict with freedom of speech.

Other countries appear to be moving in the same direction. As of February 2017, First Post reported on two lawsuits in India in which private individuals proved search engine results of them counted as defamation. The ruling went in their favor.

Around this time last year on Feb. 27,  2016,  The Japan Times detailed a judicial ruling against a plaintiff who wanted search results connecting him to child prostitution removed.

The recent court decision may be the baseline to a nationwide discussion about the right to be forgotten.

Nonetheless according to EDRi, Google does not believe in the extra-territorial effect of national laws. This attitude contradicts Google’s extra-territorial application of American copyright law.

Their failure to place value in their users’ well being and social good obstructs digital innovation and creates distrust.

With the recent rise of fake news, the public is already wary of internet content.

Simultaneously, knowledge of government surveillance increases paranoia. We, all of us, fear digital defamation.

The aftermath of the pornographic postings may crush the revenge porn victim’s dream of becoming a child psychologist, Marsh reports. “Yahoo declined to comment” while “Google and Bing did not return messages seeking comment,” the New York student’s attorney, Ryanne Konan said.

Any of us may encounter this student’s fate. Private citizens deserve the right to privacy.

We must spread the word and demand for the adoption of the right to be forgotten in the United States.

Until that day, victims of cyber defamation must sue the search engines or move to Europe in order to be forgotten.


Illustration by Elena Stuart

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