The Things You Can’t Blog About, Even If You Want To
Posted by Heather
I got into a hearty discussion today about some topics that shouldn’t be mentioned in a public blog.
At least, not one in which the author can be identified.
It got me to thinking about the lack of privacy on the web. You can do anything you want online, sure. But the moment you attach some sort of identifying information to it, you may as well throw your privacy to the wind.
Actually, the minute you post something online, just forget about any privacy.
Google’s cache keeps information for quite some time – months, at least! So let’s say that, in anger, someone posts a hateful rant about something taboo. Some subject that is well known for offending others. It doesn’t even have to be a subject associated with hate-crimes, just something that irritates people.
The person feels better after getting it off their chest, even just via the typed word. Understandable, right?
They go sit down, watch TV, talk to a friend, and totally take their mind off whatever was bothering them. No sweat.
A couple days later, everything is fine. They are calm. They come back to the computer to write about something else. Oops, there’s that pesky rant, not really meant and written in anger. *Delete*. Whew, good thing no one saw that, right?
Did Google See It?
If Google crawled your post, plan on having it haunt you for awhile. And if anyone decided to share it somewhere, plan on it potentially haunting you forever. Google holds things in its cache for months, maybe longer. I had a made a blog post several months back and then I updated it, changed it around, updated everything.
Several months later I decided to Google it, just to see what came up.
Yep, it was there. The original template and format that I’d used, all right there for anyone to see. Not too bad for it to come up in search results, sure. So what if someone sees an old blog title before I corrected it. Well, the search results alone can be incriminating, but they aren’t always the problem.
What is the Issue?
On almost every search result on Google, you’ll find a little link – “Cached”. There you can see some old version of a website, a blog, anything. That cached page may have been updated, changed, or even completely removed. Maybe someone uploaded something embarrassing, without thinking, and later wanted to remove it.
Too bad, Google now has it. It doesn’t need to be found at its original location anymore, Google has it kept on their own servers. It’s bound to remain there for some time, too. Long enough for other people to find it and re-post it if they find it particularly good or bad.
How Often Does This Happen?
Well, pretty often. Often enough to be somewhat the bane of existence for many online writers. An example that comes to mind is Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip.
He also writes a blog, which has a number of followers. A while back, he wrote a post that offended a number of different women, and even some men. It was deemed offensive over all in general.
After taking a lot of heat for it, he deleted it. If you go to look for it on his blog, it’s gone. But no one gets out of the clear that easy when it comes to what is said and done online!
Nope, instead of writing some apology and removing the entry and going on about his day while people slowly forget… People copied it. And re-posted it. And reviewed it, re-posting parts of it for reference.
In fact, if you just Google Scott Adams, you’ll get results that tell about him being the creator of Dilbert:
But then this is what you see if you scroll down:
And that’s just searching for “Scott Adams”! His notoriety over the offensive post is now almost equally popular with his comic strip. That means that you could be completely oblivious to the offensive post and Google his name for some other reason, but you’d immediately find out anyway.
Not only that, but he has pretty much lost control over his own written work. That is, before he deleted his post, other people had copied it and re-posted it elsewhere. Not just snippets, but the entire thing is re-posted.
As long as all of those people decide to keep their copy up, you’ll be able to find it years down the road.
What Can Be Done About It?
You can file a request to remove a URL from Google (in an expedited fashion), but there are strict rules on it. The expedited method is for use when private information shouldn’t have been published (such as your social security number, not that picture of you drunk in your underwear) or when it violates a law. Otherwise, you pretty much need a court order to have it removed.
Even if you feel that you are being slandered or defamed, you’ll have to prove it violates a law and get a court order to get it removed. Otherwise, too bad. Unfortunately for some, it makes sense. Google doesn’t own the internet. They just help you find what’s out there. They don’t have control over what is posted, just what shows up in their results.
If you don’t own the content that you wish to remove, you have to contact the owner of the website that has it and request that they remove it. And even then, it could still be found in Google’s cache.
On the internet, operating on the theory of damage control after-the-fact is risky. Like with Scott Adams, it could be too late. The only way you can avoid someone seeing that blog post you accidentally wrote while drunk that one night where you talked about being high at work and thinking about sleeping with the boss… is not to write it at all.