Young men and women may not realise the future implications of their tweets and posts. In fact, judging by the case of British teenager Paris Brown, they definitely don’t. EU regulations have proposed the ‘right to be forgotten’, which would force the erasure of on-line social network posts if desired by the account holder. But how effective or realistic is this?
Paris Brown, now 17 years old, had just been appointed Britain’s first youth police officer and crime commissioner. Like many young people, she may never have guessed that her childish antics would one day play a part in her later life or affect a public persona she had no idea she would have. Offensive tweets posted by Brown up to two years ago, have been picked up by the media and involve mentions of sex, drinking, drug taking, homophobic and racist gibes. Now in a very different position, one of responsibility and influence, Brown has be judged on the tweets, that she has now publicly apologised for and describes as “stupid” and “immoral.” She is also quick to say that they should not play a part in her life today – a notion that the EU seconds.
The proposal for the ‘right to be forgotten’ was drafted with children in mind. The internet allows teenagers to leave a lasting legacy at a time in their lives when they have no real understanding of what this potentially means. Had Brown had an eye on 10 Downing Street, she would probably have been discounted once her teenage Twitter activity was revealed. The EU proposals would go some way to remove undesirable information for account holders but while the rules could force companies like Twitter to comply, what about individuals who have saved the information in question or re-post it? Consumer groups are in full agreement with the potential regulations for the sake of children like Paris Brown but technology firms have highlighted the vast impracticalities, citing that these are “potentially impossible requirements for data controllers to manage third-party erasure.”
Although the Twitter page and its vile contents have since been deleted, it may be too little too late for Brown who had high hopes for her professional life and has now been removed from her position. As the landscape of childhood changes so should the rules to protect them, and others, however, as with all things, we cannot unlearn what we’ve learnt so a lesson in discretion may be in order.