An excerpt from an email I’ve been writing:
As for “the right to be forgotten,” I strongly disagree that this is important.
First of all, no one has “the right” to be forgotten. The framing of this as a “right” is incredibly dangerous because it is by definition a way to describe other people’s memories as property that they do not actually own. I.e., when you say that someone has “the right to be forgotten,” what you are saying is that this person has ownership over other people’s memories, which sounds ridiculous right now but will actually be technologically enforceable in the near future. This “right” is thus already corrupt and extremely dystopic.
Second, even if I were to cede the ridiculous argument that this should in any way be considered a “right,” and thus bounded by the incredibly corrupt and unjust framework of State-backed Law, the fact remains that the act of “forgetting” only serves to support the abusive elements of society. The erasure of history is a defining element of oppressive practices on the macro-scale of history, but also on the micro-scale of interpersonal interaction. Men who beat their wives rely on the fact that their ex-wives do not warn their new brides that they are abusive assholes. Serial rapists rely on the fact that their victims will not have the benefit of communication with their former victims in order to perpetrate multiple assaults. The idea that we should give anyone the power to enforce a kind of “forgetting” on other people is such a terrible idea that the only reason it gains favor is either the shortsightedness or the intentional sociopathy of its proponents.
If I do something that’s embarrassing but not outright predatory, then the ethical societal reaction to this act should be compassion, not ridicule. Likewise, if I do something that is outright predatory, then it only serves my own predatory motives to be able to force other people to forget that I have done that thing. The fact that society’s reaction in the former case is not compassionate but rather abusive is a problem with society, not with the ability to keep historical records. Trying to solve society’s abusive tendencies with legally enforceable mechanisms that further protect and entrench abusive behavior is silly at best and counterproductive at worst.