Have you ever posted something to social media and instantly regretted it, instead wishing you could delete it? Similarly, have you every cringed at a Facebook post from five years ago when you were younger and perhaps not wiser? Well, you may be not be aware but the Internet provides a permanent record of these posts - whether you wish to remove them or not. With this in mind, concerns are growing that our past mistakes might in fact end up damaging university opportunities, job prospects and much more.
With this I mind, internet rights campaigner, the iRights coalition, has recently issued a statement suggesting that under-18s should be given the ability to manage their online lives, including deleting embarrassing social media posts. But is this possible, and is this fair?
Before the digital generation began, you may remember writing down your thoughts in a letter to your local newspaper, or a TV consumer rights show. Although you may now be embarrassed by how your younger self acted, and what you said in the public eye, your communications are no longer easily at hand for all to see. The lack of permanence - and even more the difficulty of mining such data - meant that data of this sort was largely 'forgotten'.
Digital content today is persistent: it's accessible at the click of a button and has a sense of immediacy. There is now a search option that we didn't need to worry about in years gone by. This is a key factor underlying the campaign for under 18s to be able to remove or edit content posted about themselves, so in essence, to delete a digital tattoo that they think could scar their lives.
It is believed that, by having a 'delete' button, under 18s will have the opportunity to redeem their reputation: for example, by removing embarrassing content that could potentially ruin their future career or negatively impact a school place. You might remember the case of Paris Brown, a Youth Police Commissioner who lost her job after inappropriate tweets she had made four years ago came to the surface.
Technically, a delete button may not amount to being 'forgotten' - removing content from a search isn't the same as removing the content itself. And someone unscrupulous may already have made use of this 'deleted' information. We might also question why the watershed is set at 18 years? After all, if you're under 18 you may not understand the dangers of over-sharing online; and by the time you do it might be too late to do anything about it because you're 18+.
Prevention is better than cure. Children growing up in the digital generation should be mentored by parents from an early age, so they understand the potential considerations of sharing content online before the damage is done. It is important to monitor what your children are accessing and who they are interacting with online. Knowing as much about their life behind the computer screen as in front of it will give you and them the confidence to be open and honest and to explore the potential dangers.