Siobhain Butterworth, the Guardian readers’ editor, on “unpublishing” – where people ask to have things they’ve said removed from the archive:
The consequences of putting information about yourself into the public domain are more far-reaching in a world where things you say are linked to, easily passed around and can pop up if your name is put into a search engine by, for example, a prospective employer. The web makes a lie of the old cliche that today’s newspaper pages are tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapping. Nowadays, as I’ve said before, the things you say about yourself in a newspaper are more like tattoos – they can be extremely difficult to get rid of.
The odd thing being that in some ways we’re constantly looking online for more ways for what we write to be evanescent – to be something we just say in passing, that doesn’t get held anywhere. On Usenet, this used to be done by attached “
X-No-Archive” to the top of a post, which would tell robots not to archive that post. (Durr.) But then some people, seeing that, would simply quote the post, to be archived; and others wrote robots that ignored the X-No-Archive flag.
Then it came to Facebook, which for a while was behind high walls that Google couldn’t get over. But those walls were knocked down. Now people have in a sense tried to retreat – a little, perhaps in their minds – to Twitter, where who knows what you said? Except even that’s all archived.
I guess instant messaging feels less permanent – but even that can be stored because it goes through a server.