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Can You Ever Remove Nasty Internet Content About Yourself?

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By Andres Guadamuz:

distressFor the last couple of years, journalist Dune Lawrence has been subject to constant harassment. She wrote several articles about an investment firm, and the owner initiated an online defamation campaign against her and other targets. He posted images of her to his website and called her a racist, a fraud, incompetent and dumb, among many other insults.

Remarkably, these images quickly rose to the top of Google’s image search results for her name, and are still there at the time of writing, making it easy for anyone to find the defamatory comments about her. In fact, these results still display highly even though the creator of the site has already lost a defamation case, has been charged with fraud, and is in the process of defending yet another defamation case.

One of the great advantages – and disadvantages – of the internet is that it lets anyone easily publish anything they want. If someone publishes defamatory comments about you, or personal information or explicit photos of you, what can you do? Suing the host of the potentially illegal content is difficult, expensive, and it may even be impossible if they are in another country or are protected by strong free speech laws.

Right To Be Forgotten

If you live in the European Union, you can activate something called the ‘right to be forgotten‘ (RTBF). This allows European citizens to request that search engines such as Google remove entries from their search results that lead to content that is irrelevant, excessive, or unnecessarily defamatory.

Brought into effect in 2014, the measure was recently extended to apply to any international version of a search engine accessed from within the EU. The problem is that the harmful content isn’t removed – just the search engine link to it.

The RTBF principle has attracted criticism from those who see it as an unnecessary infringement of freedom of speech. It also poses a risk to mainstream search sites such as Google. Google currently maintains overwhelming control over the search engine market, but web users could start to abandon the site if they felt that they are not getting a full set of results. It is also undoubtedly expensive to answer all of the requests.

Nevertheless, it may sometimes be useful for citizens to be able to try to remove content from search results. Victims of harmful content can apply to search engines to explain why they should have links removed. At the time of writing, just under 1.5 million links have been examined by Google since 2014 and 43% of requests have led to link removal. By any standard, this is a considerable amount of information that is no longer listed. If your RTBF petition is denied, you can appeal to your national data protection authority, and maybe eventually go to court to try to get a link removed.

Legal Removal Request

But you don’t actually need to use an RTBF request – which deals with content that may be perfectly legal but can be deemed irrelevant, outdated or excessive – to have a link removed from Google. Instead, you could use a legal removal request, versions of which have existed for over a decade as a way to remove a link on any Google-owned site, including YouTube and Blogger, to content that infringes copyright.

Legal removal, however, targets links to potentially illegal content, including defamatory statements, malware, sexually explicit content uploaded without consent, and other similar infringing materials. After you submit your request, Google’s employees will analyse the content to see if it is potentially illegal and violates their terms of service. The link might also be removed during the investigation.

However, this comes at a cost. After a successful legal removal request, Google will display a notice in the search results detailing that content or a link has been removed. This will include a link to the request in a database called Lumen (formerly known as Chilling Effects). The database records a URL of the removed link, which is often redacted in instances of defamation or explicit images, for the purposes of transparency and to shine a light on removal requests. Victims of illegal activity have to decide if having such a notice at the bottom of a search is worth it.

One thing is clear, most of the above solutions tend to be imperfect, as they do not cover all search engines. It is also important to stress that legal requests and the right to be forgotten do not remove the actual content.

Internet activist John Gilmore is often quoted as having said: “The Net treats censorship as a defect and routes around it.” A full removal of illegal content may very well be impossible.

This article is part of The Conversation’s Science + Technology series.

Andres Guadamuz is a Senior Lecturer in Intellectual Property Law at the University of Sussex.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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