"The Right to be Forgotten"

This Forbes article is a great premise for some sort of psychological thriller movie or Grisham novel — but it’s grounded in some semblance of reality. It highlights the idea — bandied about by policymakers and advocacy groups such as Common Sense Media — of allowing us to “erase” our internet histories. Wish you hadn’t posted that unflattering 3rd grade school picture? Poof — take it down. What were you thinking when you wrote all about your ex in that blog? No worries — just erase the whole thing. And that YouTube clip of you trying to re-enact the entire season finale of Lost after a few too many? Fear no longer….

Sure we can already take down the stuff we posted on our own, without any laws or protections needed. But what if that blog post goes viral? What if your wild high school buddy lacks any filters when deciding to post those keg party moments? What if someone shares a video of you again, and again, and again? “Right to be Forgotten” laws would allow for the deletion of ALL references to material about you not needed for “legitimate purposes” (so forget about fantasizing about getting rid of your online billing or credit score..).

On some level, this makes sense. After all, if I don’t like something publicly available, and it’s about me, I should be able to get rid of it. Especially if I posted it in the first place. Don’t I have the right to retract? However, as writer Adam Thierer states, such actions would be a huge violation of freedom of speech. Not to mention technologically impossible (as of now).

But the law does have some appealing applications. All those posts written by cyberbullies could be gone just like that. And easily erased if re-posted, thus discouraging future attempts. If someone is trying to change after being afflicted by addiction, or involved in a gang, they can remove that social networking history to avoid stigmatization.

Bottom line is, though, that there is no such law and probably will never will be. And people DO have the right to express themselves (within certain limits) and we have the right to access information, no matter how unsavory. So, we should think about every post we make before putting them up there for everyone to see. And share. Because, once it’s up there, you lose control over its future, and to some extent, your past.

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