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In Europe, under the right to be forgotten laws, Google has removed nearly 1 million links, giving European residents the ability to demand that search engines remove searches for an individual’s name.

It is a curious development in this age of digital connectivity. We are feeling invaded by intrusive governments, businesses, or uninvited “guests” who troll the internet. The recent impetus to the desire to be forgotten is the news that “Revenge Porn will be cut from Google searches.” Is this what we’ve come to?

Amit Singhal, senior vice president of Google Search announced in their blog post:

We’ve heard many troubling stories of “revenge porn”: an ex-partner seeking to publicly humiliate a person by posting private images of them, or hackers stealing and distributing images from victims’ accounts. Some images even end up on “sextortion” sites that force people to pay to have their images removed.

Our philosophy has always been that Search should reflect the whole web. But revenge porn images are intensely personal and emotionally damaging, and serve only to degrade the victims—predominantly women. So going forward, we’ll honor requests from people to remove nude or sexually explicit images shared without their consent from Google Search results.

This is a narrow and limited policy, similar to how we treat removal requests for other highly sensitive personal information, such as bank account numbers and signatures, that may surface in our search results.

Google and other search engines have come under growing public pressure despite Google’s protestations based not their weak ethic: “the Search should reflect the whole web.” 

Is it any wonder that the revulsion to a process that “serves only to degrade” is strong enough to exclude this most modern of humiliations: revenge porn? It reminds me that it took the killing of nine black church goers in South Carolina to create enough revulsion to take down the Confederate Flag. But the killing there, or at schools and colleges elsewhere has not created enough revulsion of gun violence. Among the many acts that serve only to degrade, we appear to live in a time of high tolerance for degradation (I touch on this a little in my article posted in May on Wholesome Speech).

Wanting to be Forgotten and Remembered

The idea that we have a right to be forgotten runs counter to our wish to be remembered – at least in a certain way. We want our wickedness, our mistakes, our failings to be forgotten, but we want our name to be remembered as a blessing in this world. We want to be eulogized not vilified.

How interesting it is for an old Biblical curse to state that the wicked are to be forgotten.

The memory of the righteous is blessed, But the name of the wicked will rot.

“I will remember their sins and wickedness no more”

Only the Holy One is wise and gracious enough to hold us in reality – to relate to us in all our complexities. He is not horrified by our sin – He does not give us a pass on the balance of what we think is the sum of our “goodness.”  You can see this in virtually every encounter Jesus has.

Consider the wise and gracious response to the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Jesus’ silence, His choice words, His wisdom, His compassion – Jesus in the same moment makes space for the woman ripped from a context that involved another man; it’s messy; though the judges in the square were legally right, Jesus didn’t condemn her, but neither did He re-negotiate God’s will about marital relationships. “Go and sin no more” is no more condemning than it is accomodating.

Did He recognize her need for love, even this sordid kind (this would be the sort of incident ripe for revenge porn had it existed then)?  Did He understand the mess of this event – knowing that the man caught in the act of adultery was not dragged before Him. Did He weigh all the pros and cons of judgement and compassion, with right and wrong?  Did He remember who she is, and help her remember her worth?

As far back as Jeremiah 31:34, God reveals something about His imminence and His holy forgetfulness in order to reconcile us to Himself:

No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.

“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.

It is a beautiful promise of knowing the Lord; it is to include everyone from the least to the greatest, for all will come to know Him as we are known by Him. And, despite being fully known, we are promised that His knowing is kind, “for I will forgive… I will no longer remember.”  It is the substance of what He remembers that heals us.

We struggle with our Memories and our Forgetfulness

It is no wonder that so much of spiritual healing involves the healing of memories, and the forgiveness of our past – including people who harmed us, incidents that hurt us, God whom we felt abandoned us, and ourselves – as the first betrayer. Who can handle the full truth of a real life? We need a holy forgetfulness, and a holy re-membering, and this is done inside the relationship that God restores with Himself.

I don’t know if I have the right to be forgotten, but I need forgetting. I have no right to be remembered, but I know I live in the memory of God. This is restorative; it is an expression of the enigma of my worth; and it says more about God than it says about me.

Addendum as of September 2019

Four years after I posted this article, the BBC reported, “Google wins landmark right to be forgotten case.”

“The EU’s top court has ruled that Google does not have to apply the right to be forgotten globally.

It means the firm only needs to remove links from its search results in Europe – and not elsewhere – after receiving an appropriate request.

Also known as the “right to erasure”, the rule gives EU citizens the power to demand data about them be deleted.

“Since 2014, we’ve worked hard to implement the right to be forgotten in Europe, and to strike a sensible balance between people’s rights of access to information and privacy,” the firm said in a statement following the ECJ ruling.