As employers make Google searches a routine part of the hiring process, college newspapers are seeing an increase in the number of alumni looking to have their names removed from articles they wrote or were quoted in during their college years.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports
that a growing number of papers are being drawn into controversy about whether to grant alumni requests to rewrite a paper's historical record because certain articles or comments could make finding a job difficult or because they could create difficulties and conflicts of interest in the future.
The trend is just one of many products of a digital era in which everything is archived, even when those who create content are often unaware of the consequences.
"Newspapers are used to document history as it happens, and we consider ourselves historians of the State College community," says Terrence Casey, the editor of The Daily Collegian
at Pennsylvania State University to The Chronicle of Higher Education
. "So for us to remove any information would be, in essence, altering Penn State's history."
Though removing an article from a paper's online archives makes it more difficult to find, it does not make it impossible. In addition to the physical copies that remain in the newspaper's archives, there are the digital copies that remain in search engine caches and the Internet Archive
Many papers already have policies in place to deal with these requests. They frequently stipulate that they do not alter archives except for factual inaccuracies.
Unfortunately for those former students looking to clean their history, the information they want to get rid of is already out there to be found by anyone who wants to find it.
According to the Student Press Law Center, an advocacy group for student media organizations, there is no legal reason why a paper could be made to remove information from its online archive. That said, some papers choose to acknowledge the requests because of an understanding of the human concerns behind the request.
"It's fair to weigh the value of this information as public record versus the humiliation it's going to cause that individual," Adam Goldstein, a lawyer with the SPLC, told The Chronicle. "Journalism makes that accommodation all the time - when it doesn't list the name of a rape victim or doesn't publish the name of a minor."
The growing number of requests shows that recent graduates -- the first generation of students raised on Facebook and other social networking sites -- are beginning to realize the implications that new technologies and their digital footprint can have on their future.