Wikimedia Launches Viral Attack on Europe's 'Right to Be Forgotten'

Wikimedia Launches Viral Attack on Europe's 'Right to Be Forgotten'

The Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia and other “free commons” websites, is trying to organize a crowdsourced viral movement on the web to overturn Europe Court of Justice’s “right to be forgotten” ruling that gives private individuals the right to request the de-indexing of links from search results associated with their names.  

Wikimedia complains that the ruling will have “critical repercussions” for their crowdsourced encyclopedia.

The ruling came after the Court heard thousands of horror stories about sociopathic slander and criminal blackmail associated with information found through web search results. 

Wikipedia is the world’s most popular encyclopedia. According to its home page, Wikipedia has amassed over 32 million volunteer-authored articles in 287 languages since its 2001 founding. Each month it is visited by more than 431 million people, making it the fifth most-popular site on earth.  But “crowdsourced” information has the potential for inaccuracy and bias.

Wikipedia claims: “Our mission is to empower a global volunteer community to collect and develop the world’s knowledge and to make it available to everyone for free, for any purpose. We work together with a network of chapters in many different countries to achieve this goal.”  But under its “Wikimedia Terms of Use” the foundation tries to limit its legal liability for what it publishes by stating:

All of the content that we host is provided by users like yourself, and we do not take an editorial role. This means that we generally do not monitor or edit the content of the Project websites, and we do not take any responsibility for this content.

The site also specifically states that “we do not represent or guarantee the truthfulness, accuracy, or reliability of any submitted community content.” And Wikimedia also warns its anonymous contributors that “You are responsible for your own actions.” It adds: “Certain activities, whether legal or illegal, may be harmful to other users and violate our rules, and some activities may also subject you to liability.”  Listed examples include: “Engaging in harassment, threats, stalking, spamming, or vandalism.”

The major search engines of Google, Yahoo!, Bing, AOL, and Ask are all designed to be biased in favor of advertisers and publishers who understand that biased search results are valuable in generating huge sales dollars. Google has settled claims for antitrust actions in the U.S. and in Europe over its bias in “presentation of “rival links” to competitors and alternative sites beside its “own results” on the search results page.”  

The authoritative study of search engine bias is “Measuring Bias in ‘Organic’ Web Search,” by Benjamin Edelman and Benjamin Lockwood. The researchers showed that although “Google typically claims that its results are “algorithmically-generated“, “objective“, and “never manipulated,” the “economic incentives for bias are overpowering.” The study found that “search engines can use biased results to expand into new sectors, to grant instant free traffic to their own new services, and to block competitors and would-be competitors. The incentive for bias is all the stronger because the lack of obvious benchmarks makes most bias “difficult to uncover.”   

Marissa Mayer, president and CEO of Yahoo! and the former marketing director of Google, said at a 2007 conference: “[When] we roll[ed] out Google Finance, we did put the Google link first. It seems only fair right, we do all the work for the search page and all these other things, so we do put it first….That has actually been our policy, since then, because of Finance. So for Google Maps again, it’s the first link.”

The intellectual and legal roots of the European “right to be forgotten” is found in French law, which recognizes “le droit à l’oubli”–or the “right of oblivion”–a right that allows a convicted criminal who has served his time and been rehabilitated to object to the publication of the facts of his conviction and incarceration.  

In the U.S., publication of someone’s criminal history is protected by the First Amendment.  

That led to Wikipedia resisting efforts by two Germans convicted of murdering a famous actor to removetheir criminal history from the actor’s Wikipedia page.

In the last two years, Wikimedia has received 304 general requests for content removal, mostly from the US, Germany and the UK–and has “rejected the lot,” according to Forbes.   

Having lost the battle against “right to be forgotten” in the European Court of Justice, Wikimedia now seems determined to use the world wide web to fight back.

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