I may not have learned that much about controlling my use of the internet when I was younger, but one thing for sure stuck out: what goes on the web stays on the web. Now, for someone who isn’t in the public eye or even often captured unknowingly through the lens of friends, this has never really been too much of a problem for me. However, after this week’s reading, I can’t help but wonder when this eventually will turn into an issue that I will have to face as well. With the increase of technology surrounding us no matter where we are, even potentially watching us through our webcams at this very moment, are we really ever living an uncensored life?
As previously mentioned, I don’t get a lot of embarrassing moments captured on film. And certainly, I would never post it on the internet myself such as in the case of Stacy Snyder. Stacy was a student went through all of the coursework and certification necessary in order to land a future job in teaching. However, Stacey was deemed to be “unbecoming” of a teacher due to a photo that she posted of herself on social media. In this picture, she was visibly intoxicated and posed with a red cup, and yes, dressed in a pirate costume for Halloween. All it takes is one photo to ruin one’s reputation, and Stacy is a testament to that statement.
The right to be forgotten is a concept that states that individuals should have the right to control what others know about them. If Stacey wants to get a picture of hers removed from the internet in order to give herself her own best chance, then why shouldn’t she have the right to do so? Similarly, if I’m embarrassed by a Snapchat that my friend took of me dancing along to the radio by myself, shouldn’t I have a right to ask for my friend to delete it? Although the true permanency of Snapchat deletions is an entirely different case. The point is that no one should have to have videos, pictures, or articles documented about their life for the entire world to use for their discretion without the permission of the subject. We should be allowed control over what the public can see about us.
Or should we?
Professor Jonathan Zittrain begs to differ. In his opinion, the right to be forgotten is “a bad solution to a real problem.” Google handles a very large number of removal requests from individuals and corporations on the daily. However, Zittrain has fears about whether or not the current process that Google uses is ethically valid. Furthermore, this raises another question: by removing whatever information a person wants about them from the internet, are we taking away the public’s right to information? For example, if a politician has a shady background, shouldn’t we, as the public, have access to their history and past records if they are going to be governing our people? In that case, perhaps transparency isn’t just a good thing to have, it is also vital for the good of our common space.
Similarly to Zittrain, I believe in drawing a line between transparency and maintaining the dignity of the individual’s life. After all, the spirit of the commons suggests that with a community of shared space, we can use its goods for our mutual benefit. However, just as importantly, the tragedy of the commons states that the world will get pretty messed up if we all take as much as we can. Therefore, it is beneficial for the safety and well-being of our community for there to be transparency on the internet. Perhaps we aren’t quite ready for the “real name culture,” but again, that’s a matter for a different article. However, there truly needs to be a limit to how much we can take from an individual before it becomes robbery of their personal rights. In my opinion, if an individual wants to remove an image that is not incriminating but does not currently align with their personal values, then, by all means, it is their right for that image to be forgotten.
The internet does not need to have even more bias for us to determine from a distance without having an in-depth conversation with a potential candidate or partner. This idea leads to my last point which is that in the end, perhaps we have to take what is on the internet with a grain of salt. For everyone’s sake, even if we can’t force the internet to forget everything that we have done, we can at least try and overlook the occasional photo with a beer can or two in the background (if the person is of legal age, of course). After all, don’t we all have an embarrassing Snapchat video or Facebook post that we wish the internet could forget? I certainly know that Trump has a thing or two (or voice recording) that he wishes could be removed.
And yes, this leads to my actual last point: let’s keep the racist, sexist, homophobic, and overall discriminatory statements on record so that the public knows who they are truly electing for official positions.
Read more about Zittrain’s argument and the possible unethical process by which Google handles our removal requests here:
For a current update on global data protection and the right to be forgotten, click here: