Before the internet became the primary path to read Bangor Daily News journalism, it was pretty easy for people accused of crimes to be forgotten. The story was out there for a day or two, then the reader tossed the newspaper in a woodstove or recycling bin. End of story. If you wanted to dig up something from the past, you had to go to the library and scroll through microfiche.
Now, because of the overwhelming dominance of Google, past mistakes and transgressions live forever. Yet when story subjects would ask for us to take them down, we, like most newsrooms, declined. After all, we are in the publishing business. Why would we ever unpublish something? It runs counter to our core mission of informing the public and creating the first draft of history.
The fact is, news organizations have vast troves of archive content and high rankings on Google. So whether we recognized it or not, we played a role in holding back those who tried to move on from their mistakes.
Starting today, the Bangor Daily News will be taking requests to remove old crime stories from Google, which is responsible for 97 percent of our search traffic. If we approve the request, the stories will remain on the site, but they will be only findable through our own search box on bangordailynews.com. Wherever possible, we will remove the original social media posts promoting the stories. In other words, the average person doing a Google search will not find out you were arrested for marijuana possession at a gravel pit party in 2004.
Here are some stipulations:
— This policy change does not include anyone considered a public figure.
— We won’t remove stories that detail corruption or serious or violent crimes, such as murder, armed robbery or sexual assault. The same applies to crimes against children.
— We’ll only block stories about misdemeanors that were published at least 5 years ago. For felonies, that’s 10 years. We’re basing that on the deadlines set by the Maine court system for the destruction of old documents.
— This is aimed at helping individuals to move on from past mistakes, not to help companies improve their public relations.
— Because the context of each case varies, we reserve the right to deny any request.
— We review the cases a couple times a month so it may take several weeks to get a reply.
This is new ground for us, and I expect this approach to evolve as we learn more about what works and what doesn’t.
You can file a request at bangordailynews.com/forgetme