So we’re talking about the “right to be forgotten”. I am profoundly unconvinced about this. For a start, I can’t see how you can have an ethics of responsibility and at the same time a right to be forgotten. I am very interested in the past track record of people who want to exert power over me. That Boris Johnson used to claim that renationalising Railtrack was as bad as Robert Mugabe is, I think, relevant information to anyone who might have to vote for or against him. Similarly, the public memory of archives is enormously important, especially to anyone who intends to commit journalism.
That said, we should take petty tyranny, the abuse of private power, seriously too. We should take it seriously, among other things, because it is so common and it tends to be exercised in the same direction as all the other privileges in society. Having posted an embarrassing photo on Facebook should not actually be a bar to employment. Obviously, we’re living in a transitional era here – in the future, everyone will have an embarrassing Internet past, and therefore it will be unremarkable. The trouble is what happens in the meantime.
These two points are obviously in tension, if not contradiction. What I would like would be not so much a right to be forgotten, as a duty of tolerance, a right to be different or perhaps more importantly, a right to be wrong. Wrongness comes to us all. If you are never wrong, it suggests that you’re in denial, or that your ideas are simply uninteresting. And very often, being wrong is confused with just being unpopular.
But then, Harrowell, you’ve been very harsh on all sorts of people yourself. This is true, but I would claim that I’ve picked issues that are important and targets who can look after themselves.
To sum up, I would say that the notion of a right to be forgotten is worrying because we want it. This implies that we are scared of private bullying, and policed by elite consensus.
Beyond that, I am much more interested in the private use of public information, the deep-web stockpiles of ad-targeting metadata, which are worrying precisely because they are not directly observable. Then again, you have as much right to demand that you disappear from my notebook as from my mind.