Blogs » Your Advocate: an editor's blog » Readers offer insight into thorny Google question

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Members of our electronic reader advisory board had much to say about the professor's request to somehow alter the Google search results regarding his name.

Almost all of our advisory board members said the Victoria Advocate shouldn't agree to the professor's request. Here is one of the many thoughtful responses we received:

"This is a very sensitive subject to me because I have personal knowledge of situations similar to this professor's and of similar situations when records should have been expunged from court records and weren't. In spite of the fact that I would like to make things easier for the people involved, I do not think it is up to the newspaper to go back to correct a 20-year-old article. It seems to me that only Google can fix how their search process works. If they could link the stories together or link it to the article that says he was cleared that would be helpful.

"From my personal experience, professionals involved with law enforcement, police, parole officers, lawyers, judges, even therapists working in rehabilitation programs, are very unaware of the reach of the Internet. They tell their clients that records will be sealed or otherwise disappear when they have no idea where that information might have already spread. Unfortunately, at those times, the accused is in no position to think where the information might end up 20 years from now and take steps to protect himself for the future. It sounds like each individual will have to be very careful to maintain his own records and proof of what really happened and, for the rest of his life, have to be upfront with employers and others about the situation. This can permanently affect his or her ability to get work, win awards, whatever. This is very sad.

"Perhaps the lesson for responsible journalists is that they need to look a little closer at what is published in the first place since it cannot be changed in the future."

When the Advocate's ethics board met last week, we agreed we couldn't satisfy the professor. Google offered us only the option of un-indexing the entire edition containing the 20-year-old story, and that didn't seem appropriate. Also, Google's search results now show the originating newspaper's coverage of the incident, including the dismissal of charges. The professor would need to address this issue with the other newspaper before it would make sense for the Advocate to do anything with its secondhand Associated Press article.

Our ethics board also addressed a couple of other issues at its meeting. I'll share one of those with our advisory board and you in a post later this week.

Remember, we encourage you to join our advisory board. You may do so by clicking on the link we have at VictoriaAdvocate.com/survey.