Here's something that I've run into twice myself -- once with this blog and once with a discussion list I run -- and that I imagine will happen even more often to bloggers and other Web site operators. I was wondering what people thought was the right answer here. (This is an ethical issue, not a legal one; it's clear that under these facts the blogger has the discretion to make the choice.)
Say a blogger posts an accurate story -- perhaps based on a news report or a court decision -- that discusses some minor misconduct by some person. The post names that person.
Several years later, the person asks the blogger to remove the post, or to remove the person's name from the post. The person is not a government official or other important figure (at least at that point; one never knows what will happen in the future). The past misconduct was pretty minor, and doesn't suggest that the person will be a serious menace to his friends, neighbors, or others. But it's embarrassing, and the person doesn't like this story coming up whenever the person's name is Googled.
The person asks the blogger, as a favor and not as a legal demand -- which you can assume would be groundless in any event -- to help out. "I've suffered enough for my minor misbehavior," the person says or implies; "please help me start afresh with my new friends, acquaintances, and business partners." (In practice, in many such situations the person or the person's representative might not be quite so forthright, and might throw in some empty legal bluster, but let's set that aside for now.)
Should the blogger delete the post, or edit out the name? Should the blogger insist on keeping the post (again, assume that it's accurate), on the theory that people shouldn't be able to rewrite history, even the history of an online publication? Is there some sensible in-between position? For instance, say the blogger can change the post so that the name is visible to readers but not findable when Google reindexes the page (I assume that Google will at some point do that), perhaps by rewriting the name using some special characters or other computer tricks. Should the blogger do that?
Again, let me stress that I'm not looking for a First Amendment analysis or other legal analysis. We can assume (in my view, with great confidence) that the blogger would be legally free to make any of these decisions. Let me also set aside the separate question of what a blogger should do if the request comes from an entirely innocent named person, for instance someone who was the victim of a crime, or an innocent bystander. And let me set aside the question of what a blogger should do if the blogger believes the reported misconduct was quite serious, and that the person is a continuing threat of some sort to others. The question is what a decent blogger ought to do when someone wants this sort of help in lowering the public profile of the person's past minor misconduct.