When the machines edit your life

It’s like a horrific scene out of EPIC 2014.

E-Media Tidbits’ Amy Gahran highlights the story of Nino Ceritano, a restaurateur whose top Google search was a Roanoke Times story about a murder suspect who worked in his restaurant.

“What do you think when you put in a restaurant [into Google] and a killer comes up?” he asked the Times. [UPDATE: Roanoke Times online editor John Jackson dropped in with a comment today.]

Nino, I think you’re the victim of editing by machine. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately while crunching through Database Nation by Simpson Garfinkel (per the recommendation of Adrian Holovaty). One of the basic premises of the book is that much of your personal information is being held largely by third parties over which you have little to no control.

While a news story about a murder is double-plus public information, is it something that a human editor would choose to highlight as the most relevant thing about this particular establishment? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Is it fair to Ceritano? Is it more important than the amazing Pizza al Pollo? More importantly, if he were to contact Google, would they do anything about it?

It’s possible that they did. The official Web site of the restaurant is now the number one Google search result. Did someone at Google have mercy on Ceritano?

Let’s also take a look at when Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales tried to exercise some control over the information about himself when he altered his own Wikipedia entry. The crowds were incensed. You can read about the controversy on …well… his own Wikipedia entry!

Whether it’s an algorithm run by a computer or crowds of faceless contributors doing the editing, we must acknowledge that there are some dangers associated with becoming too automated. Crowdsourcing can be a beautiful thing, but we must make sure as journalists that we retain the ability to present information with care and humanity.

And on that note, Nino, here’s some keyworded link love for Ceritano’s restaurant.

[CORRECTION: I previously misstated the nature of the incident at Ceritano’s. Thanks Amy.]

Author: Danny Sanchez

Danny Sanchez is the Audience Development Manager at Tribune's Sun-Sentinel.com and OrlandoSentinel.com. Danny has been with Tribune since 2005 in a variety of editorial, digital and product development roles in Hartford, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. He has also previously worked in the newsrooms of the Tampa Bay Times and The Miami Herald.

4 thoughts on “When the machines edit your life”

  1. Hi, Danny

    Thanks for noting my article. One correction: the murder didn’t occur at Ceritano’s restaurant; a suspect in the murder had worked there.

    You made soe great points. Guess I’ll have to add Database Nation to my reading stack, too.

    – Amy Gahran

  2. Danny,

    Thanks for the mention. I spoke with Nino a few times, and I can say he wasn’t happy with placement and the affiliation. Though he did admit the “bad for business” affiliation was all based on his assumption.

    Sadly, I see this happening more and more. For roanoke.com, this is the third occurrence I know of within the past year, and second threat of litigation.

    I’m sensing a new cottage industry for lawyers and SEO folks.

    Keep up the good work.

    — John Jackson

  3. “Database Nation” is good, but quite old now. I recommend the newer book “No Place to Hide,” by The Washington Post’s Robert O’Harrow. Excellent and also scary details about who controls the information about you and all of us.

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