The internet never forgets

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There’s a fascinating ethical debate unfolding in Europe as EU lawmakers are tackling Google about the so-called “right to be forgotten”. If you did something in life that was picked up by a search engine and the circumstances have now changed, European law allows you to request those search results to be deleted. Like all such ethical laws, there are specific terms and conditions – like you got into debt but have now paid it off – but the essence is you can ask the internet to forget you. Or, more specifically, search engines to no longer index those results.

But here’s the thing – especially if you’re a corrupt government minister or, it seems, anyone who has done business with the Guptas – the internet never forgets.

History will very harshly look back on Cabinet ministers like Malusi Gigaba and Bathebile Dlamini, on Eskom’s Brian Molefe and Ben Ngubane, on Duduzane Zuma, on all the stooges that have bent themselves to the corrupt will of #Presidunce Jacob Zuma. All of these people who have crossed the ethical line and committed the despicable things they have, their crimes will never go away. Just one Google search and you can see the dastardly things they have done. Wikipedia is a damning good recorder of history too.

Google Prasa’s trains scandal and the name of Deputy Finance Minister Sfiso Buthelezi comes up. Google Waterkloof airport and up comes disgraced former head of state protocol Bruce Koloane. One day he won’t be the ambassador to the Netherlands, and will try to trade on his own good name and reputation… Oops.

All of these scoundrels who have broken their oaths of office and of good governance will one day be without the protection of Zuma. His term as ANC President is up this December and therefore his status as the country’s president is less secure. Unlike Thabo Mbeki, who was removed for an infinitely lesser but now validated “crime”, the ruling party might prove too cowardly to recall Zuma. They have had nine years to reign him in, but were too afraid to stand their moral ground; or worst still, were in on the looting.

But the internet never forgets.

One day when Zuma is long gone – and imprisoned because the new president of the country, whoever that is, has reenergised the Hawks and National Prosecuting Authority – then these spineless corrupters of the Rainbow Nation will be left exposed to history and its harsh glare. There are no press conferences on Wikipedia to try explain, like Molefe so inanely and self-incriminatingly did, that there really is a shebeen in Saxonwold.

So in about 18 months ­– when Zuma is gone and government employment is no longer viable ­– because you’ve been unethical, got caught, broke your oath as civil servants or company directors, where are you all going to find a job?

Maybe I’m being naïve, or just wishful, but a man can dream. When the patronage network dries up and the Guptas and their puppet in the Union Buildings are gone, there are going to be a bunch of parasites out of work, unable to pay for the fake lifestyles and holidays to Dubai. And everyone will know their disgrace, how their hands where in the tills, and how they got caught.

History will judge you all harshly. The internet never forgets.

This column first appeared in Financial Mail

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About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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