The Internet Suddenly Becomes A Happy Place

A cheer rippled across the globe from all those with lurid pasts when the European Court of Justice ruled this week that people have the right to influence what the world can learn about them through Google (to pick a search engine at random). The ruling set the stage for individuals to cleanse their online histories by asking search engines to erase links to Web pages “even when the publication in itself on those pages is lawful.”

In the U.S., such a notion would be dismissed under the First Amendment, but Europeans are a particular breed that puts a slightly higher premium on privacy. Said one of them: “Do we want to go into a world where we largely undo forgetting?”

Left unclear "was exactly what history remains relevant," says the New York Times. "Should a businessman be able to expunge a link to his bankruptcy a decade ago? Could a would-be politician get a drunken-driving arrest removed by calling it a youthful folly?"

Not since the widespread adoption of liposuction and Botox has such a grand opportunity to erase the past presented itself.  Out the window goes that New Age argument to your kids that everything they put online (or on the Snapchat servers) will remain there forever to one day haunt them.  At least if they live in Europe.

The good news is that if your crimes predated the Internet (and the publication in which your transgressions appeared never digitized their archives), you are home free. But if you screwed up in the past say 20 years or so, everyone from your blind date this evening to your prospective boss has access to your failures. (Triumphs, too, but nobody seems to want to worry much about those).  But pretty soon, if you are French or Greek or Romanian or Portuguese, you can order those links away, and all anyone will be able to find is evidence that you are a swell example of the human race.

I expect there will be more than a little disagreement about what represents egregious content. Can it only be self-inflicted, like those beer pong photos from spring break, or can one demand that negative reviews of their first novel be expunged? Can it only be official reporting from legitimate news organizations -- or, if after your divorce, your wife hammered you relentlessly in a chat room for being the cad you probably were, can you get that similarly eradicated? How about all of those negative reviews on restaurant and travel sites? Or unflattering opinions from, say, columns like this one? Who is to say you don't deserve every negative oath sworn against you?

Some of the most entertaining reading can come from crushing reviews of new plays, movies and books by snarky observers. And speaking of snarky -- there go the comments sections from every webpage in Europe. Oh, how we will all miss those digressions that move quickly from commenting on the content to personal attacks on those who disagree with one's POV. Especially the marginally literate slings and arrows.

So the Internet -- at least in Europe -- will become a Happy Place where "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above-average."

I expect this will somehow also impact online porn, but didn't plan to discuss it, until my friend Matt wondered aloud at a dinner party, "Why do all your columns talk about porn?" So if you run into Matt in the next day or two, tell him I wrote about porn -- again. Thank you.

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