August 20, 2015 | Category: Cyber Security | Tags: , , Views: 2620

Should Teens Have the ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ with an Eraser Button Law?

Should you hold the right to permanently delete all published content online? Two weekends ago I came across an article in the Washington Post titled “U.S., too, seeing the rise of ‘right to be forgotten'”. The author, Caitlin Dewey, addresses online privacy and the proposal of an “eraser button” for underage users.

California has a debated “eraser button” law in place. Illinois and New Jersey state governments are also looking into passing similar legislation. The proposed laws suggest that “all Web sites with registered, under-18 users [can] nuke their prior posts when they reach adulthood.”

Should Everyone Under-18 Qualify for the Eraser Button Law

If similar state bills pass, where do you draw the line? Does every person qualify for the delete option as long as they fall under the age limit? If no, then what is the set criteria to define this restriction? This debate raises more questions than it answers. Common sense and reasonable doubt expose the evident holes.

At an immature age, certainly during teenage years, we make questionable choices, say things we often regret, and act in childish ways. Despite this immaturity assumption that comes with age, teenagers do not evolve into mature adults when they turn eighteen. Immature characteristics and actions are not easily tossed away over night.

At what age do we decide a person should be held accountable for their speech online? Isn’t the whole freedom associated with social media grounded in the responsibility of free speech? We have the freedom, but also the responsibility to choose our words wisely. Before pressing the publish/post/send button on Twitter, Facebook, email or wherever online, you have the opportunity to review what you wrote and opt to discard it. You choose to publicly or privately publish statements online.

If this debate teaches us anything, we must teach our youth to fully understand the responsibility and repercussions of offensive statements or actions online instead of offering a mulligan law.

Social Media Can Stain Your Future

Older generations may view social media platforms as juvenile forms of expression. However, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and the other channels are real and present avenues of artistic and verbal expression. You have the ability to say and post whatever you want as long as the content doesn’t cross specific lines. You also have the right to set your accounts to private, limit your profile visibility, and delete your own posts and comments on other posts.

The Washington Post article references a high school student whose future prospects were dimmed by a “racist slur [he tweeted] about President Obama that was picked up by the news media.” The article quotes the student’s African American high school principal at the time, who said “he made a terrible mistake” and “that is not who he is”. The student was a high school senior at the time.

This example has obvious holes in it. High school seniors, usually at the age of seventeen turning eighteen, should understand and be accustomed with what is and what is not a racial slur. Secondly, you are at that point in your life where there is an understanding that things said in the digital world, no matter who says it, can blow up very easily. Why then should this high school senior serve as an example promoting such laws?

Teenagers May Not Need the Assist

Are politicians and lawmakers not giving U.S. teenagers enough credit when it comes to protecting their online image?

As the author of the Post article concludes, “Today’s kids don’t need eraser laws – they’re erasing themselves” with self-deleting apps such as Yik Yak, Snapchat, and Whisper. The younger generations are flocking to Snapchat and leaving Facebook alone. As blogger Andrew Watts writes in his insightful blog post, “A Teenager’s View on Social Media“:

It’s dead to us. Facebook is something we all got in middle school because it was cool but now is seen as an awkward family dinner party we can’t really leave.

Smarter, more socially aware teens, stay away from the spotlight and use the privacy focused applications for posting content. If young adults such as Andrew Watts started using Facebook in middle school, shouldn’t they be well-versed in the implications of using public and private Facebook and Twitter accounts?

Is this Privacy Law Unrealistic or Just for Show

Do the politicians and lawmakers who wrote the bill, know about archive.org, the website that archives and indexes every single website all the time? Do they understand that the U.S. government cannot govern the Internet completely? Do they not understand they can’t necessarily govern every single server farm or home server? The Internet is powerfully elusive.

Think twice about what you post and understand that “delete” may not be permanent. The recent Ashley Madison data breach shows how much value a permanent delete option holds since they charged a premium for it. Perhaps state politicians in California, New Jersey, and Illinois shoulf focus on developing teen privacy and culture awareness programs instead of eraser button laws.

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