Anyone who runs a blog stands to fall foul of some form of “censorship”.
Anyone who operates a website that covers recent history may easily tread on the toes of the living whose names may be mentioned in old documents. And the offended toes are usually attached to the foot of a real, breathing human being who’d like to extend his leg to kick your arse because between those legs dangles… well, let’s just say it’s always men, and it’s always about something of a sexual nature.
This has now happened three times.
The first incident was several years ago when the author of the paragraph named “Broomstick Death” requested that his name be removed from the “Kaka Sutra” (which I’ve rambled on about before).
This site didn’t exist yet in its current form, so I relented and, in fact, removed not only his but every single other email address from (my copy of) the Kaka Sutra because I hate spammers as much as you do.
Then, in March 2013, I got tracked down by an ex-colleague who asked me to disassociate his name from a dirty joke he had sent in 2005. He felt embarrassed everytime he had to explain how this image showed up in connection with him when they did a Google search on his name– even though he’s not the only person out there bearing it.
And because he’s a genuinely nice guy and not some random [expletive for female genitalia], I removed his name from the page.
The most recent request came in June:
For many years you have archived articles of mine on the following page:
I am soon to be volunteering to teach a high school AP computer science class, and I do not wish them to find these articles under my name. Can you please edit these to use the pseudonym “Johnson Grey”(which is the pseudonym under which I started posting the
soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm FAQ list)? Or, simply take them down?
My initial reaction was to tell the guy to get stuffed. His name appears numerous times in direct connection with even older versions of the FAQ on many different sites. Some had even been translated into other languages. It took little effort to find naughty pictures of him and his wife and many of their friends at events you wouldn’t take your mother to.
Nor am I prepared to redact three articles — of which exact copies exist elsewhere too. Why this site? Why now?
So I entered into a dialogue with this individual. It turns out he’s a decent and intelligent guy who works for Microsoft. You might even know some of the products he’s worked on.
My bottom line is I do not want my students-to-be distracted by twenty-year-old files which I have done my best to make pseudonymous over the last fifteen years, especially when that pseudonymity does not affect the informational value of the archived material in the least. …
As regards my students: there are people in the world (I’m thinking busybody administrators, parents, or principals) who will make big trouble for teachers whose sex lives become known to students. My original goals of sex education have been comprehensively met by the Internet at large, which now has far more excellent free BDSM educational information available than was ever contained in my FAQ. So now that I am focused on other areas of education, I have a high incentive to change my boundaries without — to my perception — compromising my ideals. …
I plan to educate my children in human sexuality, but not using myself as an example; their sex life should be private from me and vice-versa. And if they do run across any of this stuff that I’m unable to clean up, it will be a teachable moment for why you should never use your real name when talking on the internet about sensitive topics!
I closed off the discussions thusly:
We’re living in interesting times. You, me, our age group — we’re the bridge between the pre- and the post-internet age. I see this time and time again, and your children, the first real Generation @s will certainly fall foul of many mistakes that their children, in turn, will never consider making. If you consider the age group of those same “busybody administrators, parents, or principals”, one is given to wonder if they, as they get replaced by the post-internet generation, will still be bothered to attempt profiling an individual given the misinformation one’s likely to find online. Interesting times, I say.
Big Data can only get bigger.
Like most others who archived copies of versions of the alt.sex.bondage FAQ List, I heeded the polite request and removed it completely. There’s no need for stubbornness for the sake of stubbornness, there’s little reason for me to even keep a local copy (although it’s probably still on an archival CD-R somewhere) if the FAQ continues to be maintained by “Johnson Grey”.
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas
No data or “informational value” is lost although, in light of the Edward Snowden revelations or the availability of products like JDSU’s PacketPortal, one wonders if anything ever again can be forgotten.
What happens online, stays online.
Images via rogerebert.com and tumblr.com