Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales on Censorship of Internet Search Results: 'History Is a Human Right'



As Scott Shackford noted on Monday, enforcement of "the right to be forgotten" continues apace in the European Union. The Guardian reports that as of July 18, Google had received 91,000 requests that it remove links to embarrassing or inconvenient content from its search results. Those requests become legally enforceable demands when a country's privacy protection agency sides with a complainant, based on a subjective, amorphous standard established by the European Court of Justice last May. So far Google has granted most requests (53 percent) upon receiving them, refused about a third, and asked for additional information about the rest. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, who has emerged as a prominent and passionate critic of this censorship, condemned it again today as he released Wikimedia's first annual transparency report:

History is a human right, and one of the worst things that a person can do is attempt to use force to silence another….I've been in the public eye for quite some time. Some people say good things; some people say bad things…That's history, and I would never use any kind of legal process to try to suppress it.

Wales provided additional information about 60 or so Wikipedia pages that Google has agreed not to include in its E.U. search results. Here are four of them, which are related to four requests:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tom_Carstairs_In_Concert.jpg (photo of a guitarist)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerry_Hutch (article about "an Irish criminal, said to have been one of Ireland's most successful bank robbers")

http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banda_della_Comasina (article about "a criminal group active in the 70's in robberies, kidnappings, drug trafficking and weapons in the northern area of Milan")

http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renato_Vallanzasca (article about "a notorious Italian mobster from Milan who was a powerful figure in the Milanese underworld during the 1970s")

I found English-language versions of the latter two items, which is how I know what they're about. The rest of the pages, all related to one request, seem limited to the Dutch version of Wikipedia. My Dutch is not so good, so I'm not sure what was offensive about those pages, but they seem to have something to do with Guido den Broeder, whoever that might be.

All of these pages can still be viewed directly at the various Wikipedia sites, or via non-E.U. versions of Google, so this memory hole is not very deep. But eliminating the E.U.-directed links certainly makes the information less accessible, which is the whole idea. The government-ordered expurgation of search engine results is an especially insidious and cowardly form of censorship, stopping short of erasing information completely yet having much the same impact as far as most Internet users are concerned.

Since search engines are not obligated to disclose censorship requests to affected individuals or organizations, the full impact of this policy may never be recognized. "We find this type of veiled censorship unacceptable," said Lila Tretikov, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation. "But we find the lack of disclosure unforgivable. This is not a tenable future. We cannot build the sum of all human knowledge without the world's true source, based on pre-edited histories."


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  1. based on a subjective, amorphous standard established by the European Court of “Justice”

    FTFY Considering the fact that this court has nothing to do with actual justice, the scare quotes are a requirement. I am not certain but I think the scare quotes may even be in the actual, legal name of the organization.

    1. Scare quotes is actually a spin off of a Shannon Daugherty reality show.

      1. I still love Shannon Doherty.

        THERE, I SAID IT!

        1. She got a little chubby.

          1. I’m no John, but I accept that. Comes with bein’ a Mick and all, I think.

        2. 13 year old me had a crush on her when 90210 started. It replaced my Alyssa Milano from Who’s the Boss crush.

          1. Have you seen Charmed?

    2. Just what is their alleged jurisdiction, anyway? And was this decision at the Court’s highest level, or is some sort of appeal conceivable?

    3. The cyberpolice? Consequences will never be the same!

    4. Maybe they define “justice” as “the thing that courts do”?

      1. Basically, Karl Llewellyn said that.

  2. I’m torn:

    Are the proponents of this just utterly ignorant of the airbrushing of history by totalitarian psychopaths, or do they admire the airbrushing of history by totalitarian psychopaths?

    1. It’s Europe, so I’m going with the latter. Where do you think totalitarian psychopaths come from?

    2. The proponents are totalitarian psychopaths.

      1. *They*

        1. They proponents?

    3. Beautiful thing about the internet. The canvas can be n-layers deep. If Guido den Broeder wants the “facts” erased from Wikipedia there’s nothing stopping someone from alleging that he’s a child molester or presenting evidence of why they think he rapes puppies elsewhere.

  3. Here’s the thing =

    This appeal to anything affected by the over-extension of state power into the daily lives of human beings as, “Human rights!” being violated is an incredibly stupid defense, and one which serves to erode and degrade actual ‘human rights’.

    If everything is a ‘right’, nothing is.

    A far better argument can be made supporting the cause of preservation of records based on the specific merits of the thing itself, and not some broad, overarching argument that ‘everything has a theoretical right to exist in digital memory forever no matter what’, disassociated from any detail about the thing itself.

    1. The right doesn’t reside in any characteristics of the data. It should reside in the individuals choosing whether or not to remember or archive the data. The EU “right” seems to assert an individual right of veto regarding all data about that individual, making this potentially even more absurdly intrusive than the “positive rights” to government services and subsidies of which Euro-“progressives” are so enamored. Taken at face value it makes a mockery of freedom of speech and the press.

    2. I agree. The sentiment that history is important and governments should have no power to affect it is right. The expression that it is a “human right” is terrible. Are foundlings inhuman because they can’t know their history?

    3. Do I as the owner of a website then have an OBLIGATION to retain all copies of my website *in perpetuity*?

      Does every H&R comment have the right to exist forever, outside of the whims of the moderators of the site?

      etc etc etc etc etc.?

      What is “history”? The choice of what qualifies would seem arbitrary. The assumption of equal value to all pieces of information is idiotic. Do we think Montaigne’s Essays have the same historic relevance as James Joyce’s utility bills?

      you see my point. None of these things are at the whim of government to insist on their preservation or destruction, and should be entirely the choice of the people in power to preserve or destroy them. Which may or may not be the person who ‘created’ them.

      Kafka, for the record, ordered Max Brod to destroy all his writing. Thanks Max.

      1. Adam Smith had many of his writings and most of his library destroyed, too.

      2. Some of my comments will exist forever, even if the website someday disappears.

    4. Just keep the government out of it. There is no duty to preserve records, and no search engine should have a duty to not present the results they find in response to a web search.

  4. Has the Internet Archive been dragged into this yet?

  5. And the modern-day Hitlers would like their family history….”cleaned”….so as to mitigate the deleterious effects of [certain of] their ancestors’ actions and beliefs on the present-day family’s reputation.

    This law presents a sort of “final solution” to this….”historical problem”.


    WORSE THAN The Hitler Family

    1. Oops – did I just Godwin the thread.

      Well, you’re welcome!

      1. HITLER!

    2. If your family history bugs you, change your name. I don’t judge anyone by what their parents or grandparents did.

  6. Can Europeans use the US Google site?

  7. Why the fuck do we need history to be a right?

    Doesn’t the right to free speech cover it?

    1. This is just one of the problems with liberals. They think all sort of stuff should be rights, like history, cell phones, and birth control. But things that really should be rights, things that are actually in the constitution, they don’t seem to give much of a fuck about.

      1. The divide is mostly between positive rights which support state coercion and thus “liberals”/progs are in favor of, and negative rights which limit state coercion, and thus progs naturally oppose.

        1. You should probably switch those two things around.

          Stealing stuff and giving it to people you like is a negative not a positive.

    2. The framing of the libertarian view of rights is that our rights are indefinite but that the powers of government should be defined. It isn’t as though Wales is arguing for government funding. He is simply arguing that government should not censor inconvenient history.

      Calling it a right to history highlights the importance of the speech in question, and points to the Orwellian implication of government censoring said speech: that they are editing the past.

  8. Hey, maybe someday George W. Bush will be able to visit Europe without being arrested and hauled to the Hague, if he just files enough “forget me” requests to Google.

  9. “History is a human right, and one of the worst things that a person can do is attempt to use force to silence another….I’ve been in the public eye for quite some time. Some people say good things; some people say bad things?That’s history, and I would never use any kind of legal process to try to suppress it.”

    Fraudulent history should never be deleted?

  10. My team https://www.stepchange.the agency fully supports Jimmy Wales in this matter. As for me, the story can not be canceled or hidden. This has already happened and let the facts remain available to all people. Google has a strange policy about these pages

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