The Internet as memory is a very peculiar wraith. Entire swaths of human history are virtually absent from the search pages, while recent people, places and things thrive in overabundance. Irrelevent items, like what someone wrote on a long-dead VAX system 20 years ago suddenly pop up in a name search, as if someone found some old backup tar tapes and actually offloaded the bits into the archival dustbin. Noxious potions, irrelevencies, lies and deceits abound unopposed, because this memory is so disorganized that few can find every relevent link – much less correct the errors masquerading as facts. And even small trite embarrassing episodes from the past can suddenly appear on your Google dossier – sometimes funny, and sometimes tragic.
Stephanie Rosenbloom of the New York Times prefers to laugh – but with a purpose. Her article discussing an unflattering picture that always seems to pop up whenever her name is searched is actually illustrative of the ubiquitous and uncontrolled grasp of random bits and pieces of our lives. “If it’s damaging but it’s accurate, it’s not actionable” said John Palfrey of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. “What if it’s extraordinarily ugly?” she asked. “Extraordinarily ugly probably doesn’t get it there – with information that’s put on the Internet, you pretty much have to assume it will be around forever” he responded. Even if you’re unhappy, you’re probably out of luck.
But what about nasty and vicious things? Rosenbloom relates the recent headache of Cecilia Barnes, who’s ex-boyfriend decided to get back at her by posting nude photos, her work phone number, and her email address on Yahoo. Apparently, Yahoo hasn’t responded to demands it be taken down. A lawsuit is pending (and Yahoo isn’t talking).
Ms. Rosenbloom talks of possible solutions, from paying listing services to gaming Google. But the fact of the matter is, the more current and open you keep your information, the better you will appear.