Our policy is that we do not remove articles from our online archives, nor do we remove authors’ names from said articles once they’ve been published in an online format, unless an agreement was arranged with that author prior to July 1, 2005. Articles may be corrected or amended if we’ve published material that is libelous or factually incorrect, with a note detailing the date and time of the correction, but articles and author names will not be removed.
Current Web-caching technology used by search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and the Internet Wayback Machine archives our stories on the same day they’re posted. This means that removing someone’s name from an article or removing the article entirely after the fact is a futile gesture—the information is already out there to be found by anyone who wants to find it. Removing someone’s name or removing an article from our archives may diminish the results that come up in a search, but (especially after an article has been online for a long time) it won’t remove all traces of that article’s existence.
Even if it were possible to remove all traces of an article from the public sphere online, we would still face several issues. To begin with, Student Life is first and foremost a print publication. We publish physical copies of our newspaper three times a week.
Extra copies of those issues are published in bound volumes at the end of each school year. Student Life keeps copies of those volumes for internal use, and also provides them to anyone interested in purchasing copies at the end of the year. Additionally, the Washington University library system keeps physical archives of Student Life, which can be found in the online catalog. There are also ethical issues involving removal of already published material from the public sphere.
A famous case in journalism involved this very issue. In February 2001, editors at UC-Berkeley’s Daily Californian removed remaining copies of their newspaper from racks after students protested an advertisement included in that issue that students found to be racist in content. The next day, the Daily Californian’s editors published a formal apology. The ad’s author, David Horowitz of the Los Angeles based Center for Popular Culture, objected to this action, pointing out that the editors’ actions raised questions of free speech. Once an issue (or an article) has been published, Horowitz noted, “trashing” it or attempting to remove it from the public sphere could be termed censorship.
Horowitz made a good point. While the articles in our archives are not equivalent to ads, the same principles of free speechobtain—even when the author no longer wishes to give support to statements previously made.
We’ve begun to get requests to remove information from our Web site at a rate of about one request per month. We attribute this to the increased popularity and visibility of the site. In the past, we handled such requests on a case-by-case basis. When the frequency of requests began to escalate, however, we formulated a policy, the basis of which is this:
Because all of these archives of our content exist independently of our own Web site, and because removing existent content could be termed censorship in some instances, it would be dishonest and futile for us to remove or alter data in our online archives.