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Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.

Softening online scourge of long-past indiscretions

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Last week the Southeast Missourian implemented a new policy to govern how crime reports are made available to search engines. As I wrote when announcing a draft of the change, "The new policy seeks to strike a balance between the Southeast Missourian keeping the public informed and recognizing, sympathetically, that in today's world of instant digital search, long-past minor indiscretions can play a disproportionate role in a person's online identity."

For more information about the policy itself -- and how it specifically works-- please see my past columns or visit www.semissourian.com/help/delisting.

Today, I want to share with you excerpts from some of the feedback received after the draft policy was shared.

* Upon seeing the policy draft article, I feel a lot of things all at once. Pride, relief and hope, among other things, but these three really stand out. I love everything about the idea behind delisting prior misdemeanor rulings and reportings. The sense of pride I feel from seeing this in my long-time local newspaper before any other source is unbelievable. The very idea of these things no longer haunting people we all know in our personal lives is astounding. I really hope this comes to pass because second chances are what being human is essentially about. Thank you, Colby

* Thank you so much for considering this compassionate new approach.

I do not envy those who have grown up in the Internet age. Being a little older myself, I am grateful for the fact that my minor youthful indiscretions have been lost in the mists of time. The way I see it, the mistakes I made when young, the disappointment I saw in the faces of others, and the guilty feelings about the hurt I caused are part of what formed the conscience that I developed early on and that I have lived by ever since.

I would not do those things today, of course. I'm just not that person anymore. It would be awful if someone who didn't like me or disagreed with me politically could just Google my name and read all about it in my hometown paper before attempting to do me harm.

Thank you again. You are showing leadership that I hope others will follow. Sincerely yours, David

* This is a highly emotional and personal topic for me as this very issue has plagued my family for a decade, and I have seen over and over the pain inflicted over online Google searches. As you know, a prosecutor is free to file as many charges against an individual as they are so inclined to. This does NOT make these charges a true part of history -- only a snapshot of a moment in time when a prosecutor for whatever reason felt inclined to do so. I won't go into the details of charges brought against a boy 15 and 16 years old at the time the accusations were made -- but I will say all charges were reduced to a simple misdemeanor.

Whatever your decision, we are extremely appreciative of any efforts to help the many people affected by this modern problem. Sincerely, Tracy

* People don't need an internet trail tracking them forever. New policy is a sound one. Please implement. Terry

* I wholeheartedly support your proposed policy... placing an expiration date on the online searchability of misdemeanor arrests. Sadly, advances in technology seem to have granted outsized power to many who do not wish us well! Thank you for your efforts to make it much harder to cast that first stone. Sincerely yours, Robin

* As technology has changed the world, a virtual information trail can be extremely damaging. I see this especially affecting young people as they attempt to journey beyond Southeast Missouri. To succeed in a competitive job market, one must be confident and free of fear. No person, young or old, who has successfully transcended a tumultuous time in his or her life, deserves to have opportunities thwarted because of a prejudicial newspaper article from the past.

Throughout the years, I have known The Southeast Missourian to be a strong supporter of the community, the university and the region. I consider this proposed change a wise, appropriate and timely move to continue its positive force. Most sincerely, Renee

* I applaud your sensitivity on this subject and encourage you to move forward with the new policy. I think all newspapers across the country should join you.

Having raised three children who are all adults now and thankfully have not been affected by the internet trail, I know from some of their friends and colleagues that it has had a devastating effect on careers and personal relationships.

Thank you for inviting comment on this highly important subject. Best Regards, Cheryl

* Everyone makes mistakes, and smart people learn from them. Let's give the people who have learned from their mistakes a fresh start in the digital world so they can move on with their life.

Thanks for allowing input into this matter. Respectfully, Nancy

* The timeframe proposed is not short, but recognizes that after a period of time, an individual who has steered clear of trouble should be allowed to move forward without non-felonious transgressions affecting their ability to live a productive life free of unnecessary hurdles thrown in their way because of today's technology. Those who have worked to better themselves deserve society's support in their efforts.

In times like these, which can be so negative, it's heartening to read of efforts to change our culture in small but significant ways. It's a perfect example of what should be done in civilized society, and I commend your actions. Sincerely, Elle

The excerpts above are only a representative sample of the comments sent in. Many more -- often long perspectives -- were shared. Many were personal. Others: more conceptual. At the Southeast Missourian, we want to be transparent about how we manage such information. Thank you for reading.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian.

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