Wanting to be forgotten

Every day, the editorial staff at the UK wonders: What are we writing about, why are we writing about it, and how are we writing about it? A weekly look behind the scenes.

Last weekend, we received an interesting request. It went as follows (names have been redacted):

Dear UK,

Because we want to breathe new life into singer/songwriter X’s image, I have been purging YouTube of old material. I therefore request that you remove the video(s) of X from your channel.

Thank you in advance,

X’s manager

It concerns an article and video that the UK made some time ago about a student musician. This student was very happy with the story at the time. But now, he needs a new image. And we’re asked if we can please remove anything about his ‘old self’ from our archives.

We considered it, but after much reflection, we decided to reject the request.

Just as we did with the multiple requests from David Bowie’s manager. Over the years, he has asked the UK approximately fifteen times to erase Bowie’s past because of his new image. That was impossible of course. (None of this happened, by the way.)

Weird picture

It was kind of a strange request, but we do get this sort of thing from time to time. A few months ago, for example, a female student asked that we remove a photo of her from the UK website because she ‘looked so weird in the picture’. We prefer looking good in pictures too (we’re so vain), but nevertheless we did not honour her request.

Recently, we were asked to remove an article about a labour dispute at the RUG that had been made public from our archives. It was argued that the matter continued to haunt the person in question and that it hindered their chances of a new job or assignment.

That is very unfortunate, of course, and we feel everyone deserves a second chance. But removing an article (or a photo, or an old identity) feels too much like manipulating the past, as though something didn’t happen, or never existed. I don’t need to explain how this can lead to people changing history (or the fact that this has been tried many times before).

Arguments

The lesson here is: you need really good arguments before we will honour your request to have something removed. There is no real policy in place: we decide on a case-by-case basis.

But just to be clear: should you accidentally end up in our digital archives against your will, I refer you to the European right to be forgotten.

Rob Siebelink, editor-in-chief UK

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