News & Events

Prof. Carter on when the truth is not the truth

From archived stories to social media postings and ubiquiotous camera in photos, “Privacy may itself be a vanishing right,” according to Prof. T. Barton Carter (COM ’78).

In a recent conversation with BU Today, Prof. Carter talked about a recent The New York Times column from Bill Keller, which details the case of a Connecticut nurse suing several media organizations for defamation because their stories showed up in a Google search of her name–despite reporting historical truth.

Keller writes that the Times doesn’t destroy archived articles, instead choosing to update them to reflect acquittals or dismissals, with which Prof. Carter agrees.

BU Today: Do you think the Connecticut woman will win her suit?
Prof. Carter: I would think the odds would be against her, probably on First Amendment grounds. But it raises a more interesting question: when is the truth not the truth?

BU Today: Do you have sympathy for the plight of those wrongfully convicted who find their record unexpunged and face prejudice, such as in getting employment?
Prof. Carter: Clearly, you have sympathy in those cases. We may have the saying “innocent till proven guilty,” but a lot more people believe that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” which is unfortunate. And the state has an interest in trying to prevent people from having this effect on their lives.

BU Today: You don’t support destroying archived newspaper stories, and you don’t see the utility of preserving archives, but blocking Google searches. Is there nothing we can do?
Prof. Carter: I don’t have an idea yet on how you’re supposed to solve it. This is the fundamental conflict between free speech and potential harm caused by that speech, and almost always what you’re doing is drawing a line between the two. You can’t have them both absolutely. Sometimes you can’t have utopia. And the internet has made all of that a lot more difficult.

Read the rest of the interview on BU Today.

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