Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Google and the Memory of the Web

You may have heard something about an EU ruling recently stating that Google has control over what it shows in its search results, and that therefore, it has a responsibility to not link to content about individuals that is irrelevant, outdated or no longer applicable. I wanted to look at this, for a couple of reasons:

The first is to do with a friend of mine, who was severely misquoted by a hack in a student magazine some time ago, to the extent that it represented effectively the opposite of her opinion. She couldn't prove that, and so the article is there online for academics wanting to find out more about her as she goes about her research. I won't go into details, but the upshot is that the friend still gets negative comments from time to time. Someone else has just suggested that she might make use of this ruling, and possibly, that might prove to be a useful thing for her to do.

The other reason is that, about a year ago, I managed to upset large portions of the Sci-Fi Romance community, by writing an article quite badly, so that it didn't really get across what I wanted it to. I wanted to make a point about the things Sci-fi and SFR could learn from one another, and about how the cross fertilisation between sci-fi and Romance could do new and interesting things when done well, but how it was important to take the best from both genres, and looking at some of the potential pitfalls to avoid. I wanted to perhaps suggest that the more literary and original end of both genres was where we should be aiming. Then I made the mistake of trying to get clever and funny, by trying to parody the sort of stereotypical response I imagined from the more traditionalist sci-fi geek.

Because I wrote the whole thing so badly, I buried the bit that was meant to be the big turn around of "actually, this is nonsense, and we could learn something original from these people" at the end, in far too short a space to make it sound like my real point. The end result was that a lot of people, quite understandably, assumed that I was seriously ranting about SFR, right at the moment when the big argument about sexism in Sci-Fi was at its height, and made the jump (although as well as not intending that, I never actually said that part) that I was talking about female SF writers. Obviously, I apologise unreservedly. I'd also like to thank the writer who contacted me on Goodreads to thank me for the apology I made at the time.

The fact that I still feel the need to keep apologising a year on should give you some clue as to how important this is to me, so you might think I'm considering an application to Google under this new ruling. After all, it's something that's quite old in terms of the internet, that was originally meant to be a here today, gone tomorrow article, and that continues to crop up whenever you search for me as a writer. Which my ghost-writing clients probably do.

And I'll admit that I did consider it for about ten seconds. But there are obvious differences between this case and my friend's, and I'm not going to. First, there's the point that I did actually say this, even if it was only in the course of making a complete mess of what I wanted to say. Second, the ruling applies to links that are irrelevant or out of date, and I'm not sure the issues involved here are either. I think the question we all have to ask ourselves with this ruling is whether we're tidying away bits of the internet that belong to a previous version of ourselves, or whether we're trying to control bits of our current image that just aren't what we want people to see.

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