Making something on the Internet disappear

Here’s an interesting twist on the warning that “once it’s on the Internet, it’s there forever.”

That’s something parents typically tell high school or college students who are posting pictures on Facebook that a future employer might use to judge their character. It’s not something you usually think about in terms of what a mother might say or write about her own child.

At 6pm Monday, well after our office had closed, I got an email from a woman we interviewed five years ago for a story about a behavioral disorder her son was experiencing. She had just published a book on the topic, so of course she was perfectly happy to talk with us about the topic, knowing that our article would help publicize her book.

Her son is now 16. She describes him as a “successful, well-adjusted student and athlete.” And therein lies the problem.

“When one Googles his name for sports-related information,” she wrote, “this article pops up. As you can imagine, it is uncomfortable for my son. I do not think it is fair that this information is under [his] name. Those years are behind him and I do not want his name featured on Google connected with [this behavior disorder].

“Would you please ‘kill’ this story so that it is no longer on Google? I have requested this of other articles and they were very understanding of my son’s privacy. Any help you can provide would be very appreciated. As a parenting magazine, I am sure you understand my dilemma. Please remove this story/kill the story and remove it from Google immediately.”

I absolute understand this woman’s desire to protect her son. I Googled her son’s name and quickly identified the problem. Page 1 lists his various athletic accomplishments. At the top of Page 2 is a link to our story.

But I had to think about her request for awhile. We published the story on this particular behavior disorder because we knew it would provide hope and guidance to other parents who found themselves in this mother’s situation. If we killed the story, that value was gone forever.

And, I have to admit, her request kind of got my back up. She wrote a book about it. Now she’s upset with us?

I had a meeting out of the office on Tuesday morning. Before I even got to work, the mom had called our office, repeating her demand to Operations Director Debbie Davis, who happened to answer the phone. So while I was thinking about what to do (between 6pm Monday and Tuesday morning, mind you), she’d gotten increasingly agitated about the situation and eager to see it resolved.

I’m guessing the real problem is that her son is upset with her. But that’s between them. Debbie and I talked about it and decided the right thing to do was to respect the son’s interests and protect him from embarrassment. So we killed the story, which is no longer accessible from our website.

But that doesn’t really solve the mother’s problem. We can block access from our site but we can’t control Google. For that battle, she’s on her own.

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2 responses to “Making something on the Internet disappear

  1. Success stories are so important for fellow youth facing health challenges. I hope some day he will share his own story as an inspiration to others.

  2. I agree! Which is what makes this story all the more frustrating and sad.

    On a side note, I did a Google search on the son’s name today, after disabling the story at raisingarizonakids.com yesterday, and the story now pops up on the FIRST search page. I’m guessing that the mom and son are Googling his name so often that the search engines actually moved the story up in the queue. There is no way we can control sites that may have linked to this story, or copied it without our permission. I’m not sure how successful she’ll be in making it go away.

    Interesting, too, is that in her email signature she still describes herself as “Author, [name of book about son’s behavior disorder].” So there’s some sort of odd disconnect going on here.

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