Source: Sherman Publications

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My Way
My Way
OMG! I can’t believe he wanted me to erase history :(

by CJ Carnacchio

January 05, 2011

I received a call a few weeks ago that really disturbed me for a myriad of reasons.

The young man, who did not identify himself, wanted a story about him removed from our website because his criminal record had now been "expunged."

Apparently, he didn't like the fact that when his name was Googled, an article I wrote about the crime he committed during his days as an Oxford High School student is the first thing that pops up.

In his mind, now that his criminal record had been "expunged," the news article about him should disappear as well.

When I explained to him that's not the way things work, he promptly hung up on me. Anybody remember manners?

So we're all on the same page here, let's be clear that expungement of a criminal record doesn't mean that a person was found not guilty in a court of law. It simply means that his or her prior conviction has been set aside.

Having one's criminal record expunged basically means the law is supposed to treat a person as if they had never been convicted. An expunged conviction is not supposed to appear on a person's rap sheet.

Expungement does not, however, change history.

It does not mean that a person is entitled to have newspaper articles that were written about them and their crime erased from existence.

Wiping clean someone's criminal record doesn't suddenly negate the facts or alter events. It's not like taking a ride in Doc Brown's time machine.

This young man's request sent a chill down my spine because it reminded me of George Orwell's classic dystopian novel "1984."

In this 1949 book about a fictional totalitarian society controlled by a dictatorial figure known as "Big Brother," the main character, Winston Smith, works in the records department of the Ministry of Truth.

Winston's job is to rewrite historical documents, so they match the constantly changing party line. His duties involve revising newspaper articles and doctoring photographs, mostly to remove "unpersons" – people whom the State now regards as enemies.

Basically, this young man wanted me to do Winston's job and erase his misdeed from the internet, thereby erasing it from history.

We didn't get around to whether or not he wanted me to burn all the print copies of the article as well.

All this got me thinking about how easy it's becoming, thanks to the accursed internet, to rewrite, control, alter or erase information.

With a just few clicks of a mouse, we can change the web pages that now define way too much of our reality.

Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, every one of us has the ability to change our personal profiles a thousand times a day and publish every single inane thought that pops into our heads.

If you ask me, it's this new-found power that led this young man to believe it was perfectly acceptable to just call up a newspaper and ask that an unflattering article about him be removed, not because it's untrue or inaccurate, but because its simply inconvenient.

With the stroke of a key we can change our relationship status and add or delete friends; why not erase our crimes, too?

It makes me wonder if we are in danger of becoming a nation of Winstons.

What if I had decided to set aside my ethics as a journalist and honor his request to delete that story from our website?

What if I decided to erase this piece of local history because I felt sorry for him or worse, he paid me to do it?

Honestly, this kind of stuff keeps me up at night.

That's why I love good old-fashioned ink and paper so much.

Sure, a newspaper can be destroyed by water, fire, shredding, age or an incontinent dog, but in the end, there's always a copy lurking somewhere.

To this young man who called, and to all the young people out there, I say this – if you really don't want your past to haunt you for the rest of your life, don't do stupid things.

I realize that for many teenagers doing stupid things is like breathing, but use some common sense and fight the urge.

Instead of trying to get his past erased from the Web, this young man should simply explain to those who stumble across my story that he did a dumb thing in high school, but he learned his lesson and he's a different person now.

I think most people can relate to that.