Commentary

'Boston Globe' Offers 'Fresh Start,' Well Intended Antidote To Digital Shaming

One of the most suffocating byproducts of the information age is the eternal preservation of even the most minor mistakes and misdeeds. The Boston Globethis month took a positive step in giving people a chance to update or anonymize its past coverage of them, similar to "right to forget" programs that other newsrooms have adopted.

The motive for its experimental "Fresh Start" program is to address the lasting consequences some suffer when their past embarrassments or minor crimes are preserved online. An internet search can turn up news stories faster than other kinds of records, such as court proceedings, especially since most media organizations optimize their websites for discovery.

The program is part of the Globe's efforts to weigh the effects of its cops and courts coverage on people of color, amid the broader "nationwide reckoning on racial justice," according to its website. The program is aimed at individuals, not corporations or government agencies that may have received unflattering coverage.
The Globe set up a web page to let people submit a request to update a story or protect their privacy. The newspaper may republish the story with new information or remove from Google searches after a 10-person panel reviews the requests.
“It was never our intent to have a short and relatively inconsequential Globe story affect the futures of the ordinary people who might be the subjects,” Brian McGrory, editor of the Globe, said in a story about the program. “Our sense, given the criminal justice system, is that this has had a disproportionate impact on people of color. The idea behind the program is to start addressing it.”
In many ways, the Globe's program brings its practices more in line with what some criminal courts offer. It's possible to have records of misdemeanors sealed or expunged from records, preventing them from being discovered in criminal background checks when applying for a job or a bank loan. It's unfair that a person's minor misdeeds should haunt them forever, like the oppressive gaze of a Foucauldian panopticon.
The Globe's experiment also is likely to raise some thorny issues about what kinds of stories are deemed "unpublishable." There have been countless articles about people who embarrassed themselves or were fired because they offended someone on social media. "In a since-deleted tweet" is the telltale phrase in many of these stories of public shamings. "Cancel culture" is the opposite impulse to giving people a fresh start, and in many cases deserves its own form of forgiveness.

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