My son is four years old, and like most mothers, I often capture precious moments with my digital camera. Also like many mothers, I post these photos and others of family and friends, to my Facebook page. Josef has his own “album” on my page, full of cute pictures such as playing dress-up, wearing a blonde wig and sporting red lipstick, or posing reluctantly with balloons stuck to his body. Quite harmless images, or at least so I think, however, perhaps Josef might not approve, if he were old enough to know. At this point he is not. Because of my experience online and working in the field of social media, I do manage the images that I post about my self and others. I am aware that once these images find their way online, it is nearly impossible to know who might view them or where they might end up. However, not every image taken of my self or my family is under my control. Over the weekend, Josef enjoyed a bubble bath in grandma’s Jacuzzi bathtub. When he emerged, he was covered entirely in bubbles, and of course, grandma ran for her camera. Captured forever is the adorable four-year-old in a glamorous pose, with bubbles covering his otherwise naked body. I did not post this picture on Facebook, however, I do not own the photograph. It is on grandma’s camera, and therefore, it is up to her discretion as to whether to share or keep it private. I cannot know without a doubt that the photo will not one day emerge electronically, nor can I be sure that this photograph will not fall into the hands of strangers. This fact makes me wonder at length as to what life will be like 20 years from now, when Josef is a young man, living with his own history, created by others, entirely accessible through the World Wide Web? What if any of these images should somehow cause personal grief, impact his work, his school, and his personal life? Who is responsible, and what right does Josef have to his own image, his own cyber self? As an adult, will Josef have the ability to remove those images and recreate his own history? Will he have the right to have his identity removed completely, and if that right is valid and legally granted, how feasible is the notion of “being forgotten” online. The question is gaining some attention internationally as human rights, government, law makers and information providers gaze through the looking glass with trepidation, toward a future where identity, privacy, commerce, legal rights and personal information freedoms collide.
Since the introduction of the Internet to the general public in the early 1990s’ people have launched themselves into the public sphere with unprecedented vigor. With the creation of social media tools and search engines, the ability to share information freely with anyone, anytime and anywhere, freedom of speech, the rights of the media and the protection of privacy, has come under scrutiny. American-based companies such as Facebook and Google face conflict both in North America and abroad for the impact of personal information online and accountability for the outcome of shared information. We have only begun to hear the stories of bullying, suicide, divorce, loss of employment, expulsion from school and more as a result of personal activity online. As more situations of personal defamation, due to information that has been shared, occur more people ask what their rights to privacy are online while Facebook and Google challenge the degree of responsibility they bear to police the internet. At this time, the impact of the Internet and its influence on our right to our own personal information has not yet been fully realized. Those individuals who are approaching their school years with social media websites such as Facebook having an active role in their social lives from the time they were born, will be the ones who will most know the risks and rules of the web, and who will ultimately shape the future of the internet. For instance, the majority of teenagers in 2013 are already more aware than their parents that the information they share online is available to friends and “haters” alike. They are also aware that there are predators, bullies and other opposing forces that may gain access personal information not only now, but also for years to come. It is this group who will be most aware of living a life that is visible online, and will be most concerned with the definition of information privacy.
One of the first questions that need be addressed when approaching the subject of social media, the Internet and personal information is, what is privacy? In North America, we may take for granted the privacy is a fabricated notion of being, which varies in different political environments. As a Canadian, my views on privacy are not dissimilar to those held in the United States. However, privacy is not defined across cultures in a single brush stroke. In the United States of America, for example, laws shaped by civil war and defined by a closely guarded constitution, protect freedom of speech and of the press. For this reason, freedom of speech often trumps personal privacy, and information disclosure, if found true, is favored over ones right to anonymity. While exploring media and information disclosure in the United States, we come across numerous cases where otherwise personal information is made public due to constitutional law. The law in the U.S. Supreme Court allows the media to share all information this is legally acquired and is deemed to be true. As an example, a case involving a “Cox Broadcasting Corporation” and the Cohn Family launched when Cox released the name of a deceased rape victim. As a result, the father claimed the disclosure to be an infringement of privacy, and took Cox Broadcasting to court. In the end, the court ruled in favour of the broadcast company as the information was taken from “publicly available court documents, effectively vitiating any claimed privacy interest that might have been violated by disclosure.” (Werro) In another example, “Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Co.”, a teen murder suspect sued a newspaper for publishing his name, which violated the West Virginia statute prohibiting the publication of the names of minors involved in criminal proceedings. In this case, the courts did not find the newspaper liable as it ruled that the name of the teen was “lawfully acquired” and “in the public interest.” (Werro) While each state has its own law and position regarding personal information and rights, the underlying policy of freedom of speech and free press impresses upon national law that the First Amendment takes precedent over personal information and the right to privacy. Of course, understanding that the First Amendment was drafted in part, defense of democracy, which in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “…cannot be both ignorant and free,” might help one understand why freedom of speech is a guarded issue in the U.S. However, it is safe to presume that the First Amendment had a different meaning in the past where information had a “shelf life” and therefore ones’ minor discrepancies had the ability to be forgiven and forgotten. Before the introduction of the web, information had a limited memory, newspapers were destroyed over time, the news was replaced by “new, news”, community “gossip” grew old, and eventually the story, no matter how “juicy” was reduced to fable. However with the World Wide Web, information that was once easily phased out over the course of time, is now readily available, in full detail without the filters of forgetting or forgiveness. To further complicate the issue, social media sites such as Facebook, Flicker and MySpace enable one to post images and distribute information without others consent. Given that the next generation may have their entire lives online, posted by others at an age when that person is too young to know, or posted by themselves at an age when he or she is too young to be responsible for his or her actions, presents a very different landscape for personal rights and freedom of information for the future. Currently, U.S. based business such as Google and Facebook lean far to the side of freedom of information and self-policing of the web, in an effort to avoid responsibility and associated costs, which could amount to up to 1 per cent of its $37.9 billion annual income, (Rosen, The Right to be Forgotten). However, in light of the very different perspective on personal rights in European law, it is clear as these social networks and resources evolve, so do the opinions toward rights of those who use them.
In contrast U.S. policy, Europe takes the position that the right to privacy trumps the right to publish. According to Viktor Mayer-Schonberger in his book, “Delete – The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age”, Mayer-Schonberger cites Europe’s tarnished history with information sharing during the second world war and how information deemed safe, came under the control of the Nazi’s and caused a great deal of harm. He notes how when Nazi Germany invaded Holland, otherwise “safe” information which had been provided to the Dutch Government during peace times, and was considered to be, “facilitating government administration and improving welfare planning”, fell into the wrong hands after the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands. The Nazi’s were able to use the information, which included names, birthdates and religion to locate and annihilate more than 73% of Dutch Jews, a might greater number when compared to 40% in Belgium and 25% in France, or any other European nation. Gypsy’s were also listed in the Dutch registry, and “fared even worse” according to Mayer-Schonberger. Given the history in Europe, it is understandable how the EU and society should favor information and privacy protection over the rights of information sharing. Time and situation has proven the potential danger to individuals and groups of people when such information falls into the hands of those of nefarious nature. Therefore, law and rights in Europe are different than those we have come to accept as the norm in North American. One example of how rights and law between media and individuals differ in Europe and the U.S. is a court case where the “Societe Suisse”, a Swiss Federal Tribune determined that a Swiss TV broadcasting company could not use official records to broadcast a documentary of a criminal who was sentenced to death in 1939. The decision was based on the rule that the son of the criminal in the case held the right to keep these details private, and that the criminal had a legal right to be forgotten. “Once the period is over, the court reasoned the press and public as a whole should not have access to the official records any longer, because criminals do not remain of interest to the public indefinitely.” (Werro) A subsequent case involved a CEO who was convicted of a “white collar crime” who filed an “action for invasion of privacy against the author and publisher of an article”. The Swiss Federal Tribunal found for the plaintiff, regardless that the information was true, citing that “facts could no longer justify the infringement of the plaintiffs right to have his honor and his private life respected.” (Werro)
A current case receiving a great deal of attention, involves Google and Spanish officials after a Spanish man who found unfavourable personal information through a Google search, and demanded that Google remove it. The EU courts ruled in his favor, and Google is in court challenging the ruling, as such a ruling would forever alter Google’s position on information management. The court is also to assess if a California company such as Google, is subject to EU law. The Spanish position on the ruling is in direct relation to a policy, which was introduced in Europe and is currently under review, stating that people have a right to the information posted by them or about them on the Internet. This proposed policy, known as “The right to be forgotten” states that if a person should wish to have personal information deleted from the internet, regardless of whether or not it has already gone viral, they have the right to do so, and social media and search engine providers such as Facebook and Google, have a legal obligation to fulfill that right. (Rosen, Symposium Issue The Right to be Forgotten). The policy has yet to be passed, however, as it proposed, would effect both the individual who posts information and the information conduit provider, mainly, Facebook and Google. It also stands to reason that such a policy in Europe could find its way into Canadian and American courts thereby altering the Internet information landscape forever.
Which brings us to a very important question, what exactly is “the right to be forgotten”? It is in effect a proposed EU policy, which was introduced at the end of January, 2012, by the European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights, and Citizenship, Viviane Reding and would replace the existing “Data Protection Directive”. According to the European Network and Information Security Agency, (ENISA) the Article 17, Right to be forgotten and to erasure “provides the conditions of the right to be forgotten, including the obligation of the controller who has made the personal data public to inform third parties on the data subject’s request to erase any links to, or copy or replication of that personal data.” (Peter, Backes and Tirtea) The proposed policy specifies, “Any person should have the right to have personal data concerning them rectified and a ‘right to be forgotten’ where the retention of such data is not in compliance with this Regulation.” In essence, the proposed policy as it is would provide individuals the right to request all information relative to them selves to be removed if they so wish, and it would be the responsibility of the “controller” (in the case in Spain, Google) to ensure that this right is upheld.
The “Right to be forgotten”, has been under a great deal of scrutiny and the cause of much debate, and has recently been “codified” as part of a “broad new proposed data protection regulation”. (Rosen, Symposium Issue The Right to be Forgotten) Although Reding has described the new right as a “modest expansion of existing data privacy rights,” according to many international representatives, the right to be forgotten represents the “one of the most significant threats to free speech on the Internet in the near future”. The “Right to be forgotten” could make Facebook and Google, for example, “liable for up to two percent of their global income if they fail to remove photos that people post about themselves and later regret, even if the photos have been widely distributed already.” (Rosen, Symposium Issue The Right to be Forgotten) According to Rosen, unless the right is defined more clearly than when first introduced over a year ago, it could “precipitate a dramatic clash between European and American conceptions of the proper balance between privacy and free speech, leading to a far less open Internet.”
The challenge, includes, but is not limited to differing beliefs regarding speech and privacy between the United States and members of the European Union. The European proposed “Right to be forgotten” policy allows individuals the right to have images and information, regardless of source, taken down. The policy would also require the service provider, such as Google, to manage the censorship of data. (Berkeley Journal of International Law) In Europe, the basis of the theory “the right to be forgotten” can be found in French law, which the “right of oblivion” allows a convicted criminal who served his sentence and considered to be rehabilitated, to object to the publication of the facts of his conviction and incarceration. However, in the United States, the First Amendment protects the publication of someone’s criminal history. (Rosen, Symposium Issue The Right to be Forgotten) In Reding’s 2012 announcement, information that may be regulated and removed is not limited to personal data that people “have given out themselves”; instead, they create a new right to delete personal data, defined broadly as “any information relating to a data subject. “For this reason, they arguably create a legally enforceable right to demand the deletion of any photos or data that I post myself, even after they’ve gone viral, not to mention unflattering photos that include me or information about me that others post, whether or not it is true. (Rosen, Symposium Issue The Right to be Forgotten)
“If I post something, and someone else copies it and re-posts it on their own site, do I have the right to delete it?” According to the proposed European Right to Forget, the default answer is almost certainly yes. According to the regulation, when someone demands the erasure of personal data, an Internet Service Provider “shall carry out the erasure without delay,” unless the retention of the data is “necessary” for exercising “the right of freedom of expression,” as defined by member states in their local laws (Rosen, Symposium Issue The Right to be Forgotten)
It would be incorrect to assume that, should a policy for privacy and the right to be removed from the Internet be approved that removal of personal information would be a simple task. The reality is that the concept in theory is quite possible, however in reality, control of information once it is published to the web might be utterly impossible. There are several factors to consider, such as following and removing information once it has become viral, or who is responsible to manage information once it is posted to the online.
Google and Facebook were both born under United States law, with the freedom of speech and the right to be heard as a basis of their business platform. Time and international law have already pushed Google to limit access to certain individuals and content in specific countries based on laws that were created to prohibit the spread of some information, or to protect the personal rights of citizens. What both Google and Facebook, along with Yahoo and other search engines and social media sites are tying to avoid it to become censor and responsible for content that is posted by its users. It becomes a slippery slope in determining that has the right to post and at what point are these online business are no longer held responsible for the content stored and shared through their systems. “The proposal is being strenuously resisted by Facebook and by Google, which could be liable for up to 1 percent of its $37.9 billion annual income if it fails to remove photos or other data that people post about themselves and later think better of, even if the data have been broadly shared. (Rosen, The Right to be Forgotten)
The concept of one have the right to be forgotten online on the surface seems quite reasonable. What if, after thirty years of sharing and tagging you should decide that the public sphere takes too much of a toll on your personal life? What if you should decide you no longer want to be found through searches of your ex-husband, your ex-employer or a blog that you commented on late one evening after a bad day and possibly too much wine? In theory one should have the right to have their personal diary removed from the public sphere, especially if the information was shared when the sharer was too young to be responsible for his or her actions. The challenge is, although the EU might propose the theory, the act of fulfillment is difficult, if not impossible. The European Network and Information Security Agency (enisa) published a full report called, “The right to be forgotten – between expectations and practice” to address the challenge. The conclusion was that once information is published, “it is ultimately impossible to prevent, or even observe, by technical means, the creation of unauthorized copies of this information.” (Peter, Backes and Tirtea)
European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights, and Citizenship, Viviane Reding – “It is clear that the right to be forgotten cannot amount to a right of the total erasure of history,” she said. (Rosen, Symposium Issue The Right to be Forgotten) “Unless the right is defined more precisely when it is promulgated over the next year or so, it could precipitate a dramatic clash between European and American conceptions of the proper balance between privacy and free speech, leading to a far less open Internet.” (Rosen, Symposium Issue The Right to be Forgotten)
What is yet unknown is how the “right to be forgotten” might affect the user and information sharing that we currently take for granted. It is one thing to consider a convicted criminal who has served time and by French law, has the right to wipe the slate clean of his wrong doing, but quite another when considering family photograph sharing, casual blogs written by amateurs and the typical internet user who currently populates the web with personal information. Not only is it nearly impossible to retract information once it has gone “viral”, the question of liability will no doubt be a common area of debate. In an article published in the Berkeley Journal of International Law, expresses several major issues with the EU proposed policy. One issue is the bounds of the policy, which although currently proposed in Europe, due to the international nature of the Internet, can no help but apply to countries outside of the EU. The Article 29, Data Protection Working Party, which is an advisory group associated with the EU, stated its “working document on determining the international implications of EU data protection law to personal data processing on the Internet by non-EU based websites.” (Berkeley Journal of International Law) The “Working Party” determined that, “an online interaction between a website operator with no legal establishment in the European Union and an individual residing in the European Union may suffice to trigger coverage under EU data protection law.” In essence, any information that relates to an individual in Europe who is protected by the “right to be forgotten”, falls under EU law, and therefore, under this policy, would require that it be removed. Essentially, information regardless of where it is posted, may be audited and held under EU law if the material relates to anyone living in the European Union. Furthermore, and by far more troubling for the average individual, anyone who posts information, may fall under the same policy and regulation as large information providers, such as Facebook and Google. According to the “Berkeley Journal”, “anyone who posts personal information about another person on his or her own social networking profile or uses personal information from another person’s profile could be deemed a “data controller” subject to the data protection obligation of the Directive.” To truly appreciate how damaging it may be for an individual to be deemed a “data controller”, one must understand the penalty for those who “do not comply with the right to be forgotten or erasure”. While individuals have not been cited as of yet to what degree they will be held liable, large “data controllers” such as Facebook face “a fine up to 1,000,000 euros or up to two per of its annual income” if it refuses to or is unable to remove information when requested. The legal implications and potential ruin any one person might face should an image or article be posted and become viral is inconceivable, and undoubtedly a deterrent when considering freedom of information and freedom of speech. To further illustrate, if for instance, I write an article today in reference to an individual residing in Canada, only to find that ten years in the future, the individual lives in the UK and demands that the information be removed. As the “data controller” I may be liable to ensure the article is removed entirely from the Internet, regardless of how many times it may have been shared, cited, reviewed and redistributed. Ten years of history imbedding into various media channels over the world-wide-web would result in months, if no years of work and no doubt the assistance of a professional company, to track and delete the document completely, if in fact, complete deletion is even possible. The financial burden of this responsibility, regardless of any legal action should I fail to comply, is mind-boggling. It would take only a handful of situations such as this before self-censorship would take on a whole new meaning. How would one determine what to write today, not knowing the implications in the future? Even the simple sharing of family photographs on Facebook would come into question, with most opting out of sharing photos of other entirely. It could result in Facebook and other social media websites becoming almost entirely comprised of “selfies” and personal photographs, with no reference to anyone outside of the page owner. In effect, social media would lose its charm as it might very well be an anti social forum for narcissists and voyeurs (assuming it is not already.)
Therefore, given the desire to engage in social media, the value of providing information to third parties, the known dangers of sharing personal information, and the implications of a policy that holds “data controllers” legally responsible, we need to consider not only the potential issues, but also, the possible solutions which would allow for a public internet with a level of confidence that information may be shared without serious negative repercussions. In his book, “Delete The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age”, Victor Mayer-Schonberger has researched the subject and provides six possible responses based this of research. His first suggestion for online information control is “Digital abstinence”, which is the method where people simply remove themselves from online forums, refuse to engage in online transactions and essentially abstaining from online information sharing. According to Mayer-Schonberger, those who are aware of the permanence of posting information online will refrain from doing so, in favor of returning to an environment of imperfect memory. He states, “…once people understand the implications of abandoning forgetting, they will stop giving their personal information to others…. digital memory will cease to exist.” This method of protecting information is really a method of avoidance rather than management, and as Mayer-Schonberger states, those who choose “digital abstinence” must “stay away as much as possible from interactions that force you to reveal information to others.” (Mayer-Schonberger) However, there are two major problems with this form of information control. One is that most people are not aware of how their information is gathered, saves and shared. They may avoid engaging on social media sites such as Facebook, only to apply and use a points card such as Air Miles, which tracks personal information such as marital status, name and address and more importantly, purchasing habits. Therefore, the initial hurdle in “digital abstinence” is informing the public. Mayer-Schonberger writes, “….individuals will need to be educated to understand how information they routinely provide to others, the value of that information, and the dangers associated with storing and repurposing that information with the help of digital memory.” According to Mayer-Schonberger, while the method of “digital abstinence” may have a “luddite ring to it,” if done correctly and thoroughly it could effectively “cripple digital memory and restore a digital forgetting society”, which May-Schonberger implies may be a more “normal” and preferred form of social engagement in society. However, beyond education, which is a difficult to measure and enforce, “digital abstinence” shares another major issue, and that is, that the majority of individuals today have already shared major aspects of their personal data online and with third parties. It is a daunting task to imagine tracing and attempting to erase every historical transaction, email or other bit of information, especially when the vast majority has no idea of just what information is stored where. Even change of address information, provided to the post office when we move, is shared with third parties who are then able to store and manage this information for others wishing to perhaps market in your area. Given the sheer vastness of personal information already available, “digital abstinence” looks a lot like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. The problem is, as mentioned previously in this paper, the implications and dangers that may come from sharing information will not likely be felt now, but will come to “haunt us in future years.” Essentially, convincing people to forego the sharing of information online is a difficult task, and given the amount of information already available online, for most, an impossible one.
According to Mayer-Schonberger, another option is considered, “digital abstinence light”. The idea would be to practice a form of digital avoidance, relying on limiting information shared with others rather than avoiding information sharing altogether. He states, “Instead of expecting individuals to keep information to themselves, they would be expected to be more cautious when releasing information, and it accepts that providing information creates value”. However, as with “digital abstinence” the issues are similar in that it requires the public to know and understand who and what has access to their personal information, and it does not effect information that has already been shared, with or without someone’s knowledge. Therefore, Mayer-Schonberger notes that its true effectiveness relies on vendors providing options as the degree of information stored and shared as benefits for doing business, or by abstaining for gathering personal information in the first place. He says, “Its effectiveness relies on the pressure users place on vendors,” however, vendors are capable of retrieving information through clever marketing ploys, and therefore, the effectiveness of “abstinence light” is in doubt. As is stated earlier, once information is obtained and shared, it is difficult to know who has access to it or that it will not continue to be shared with others. In spite of complete digital abstinence or “abstinence light”, according to Mayer-Schonberger, there is enough existing information already available to “render us vulnerable for decades to come.” Therefore, from a reasonable position of the value that information sharing does provide, it begs the question of why would we stop giving away our personal information when it is already out there? Once personal information is released to the public, is very difficult to contain or delete. This weakness in enforcement can be enforced by employing laws, which takes us back to the EU proposal, and the already discussed possible implications of creating laws around information privacy online.
In Mayer-Schonberger’s opinion, the ability to be manage information online while allowing the ability to be forgotten may lie in creating expiry dates on shared information at the time of its creation or its sharing. In his opinion, the solution may lie in “reintroducing forgetting” by creating the option to automatically delete information, once the use for that information is complete and the ability to create expiration dates is one way that this information may be deleted based on predetermined dates The theory is that information is no longer valuable over an period of time, and when that time has passed, the information should be automatically deleted. The value of the data and length of time it should exist online would be determined at the time of sharing. According to Mayer, “…most information loses its informational value, much like yesterday’s newspaper, or an old joke we have heard too many times.” Basically users would select an “expiration date” and would not be able to save a file without setting an expiration date. Based on these preferences, the user’s computer would do the rest. To further ensure that data is not deleted prior to its period of usefulness, the users’ computer could have an interface that warns when information is approaching its expiry date, and to automatically delete once that date has passed. Also, if one copies a file, the expiration date is copied with it, therefore eliminating the possibility of viral information getting out of the control of the person who initially posted it. Mayer-Schonberger is enthusiastic about this method of data management, however, that enthusiasm seems somewhat idealistic given the challenges faced when deleting information from Internet companies who profit from keeping that very information. What might force Google, for example, to delete information provided when its entire business model is based on saving and repurposing that data? What might convince Facebook to delete posts forever from the Internet when it is the history, the breadth of posts with hash tags and keywords, which allow them to track and target users for their advertisers? The question remains, at what point is information retained and at what point is it regulated? After all, expiration dates may be set, but we know already that deleted files may be retrieved from hard drives with the use of specialized software. In the future, what is to prevent similar programs from retrieving information that the user believes is long since destroyed? While the concept of recreating the ability to forget on the Internet is captivating, and on the surface, intuitively simple, those who benefit from retrieving and using the information will always be in conflict with those who wish to have that information forgotten. And in this is the crux of the issue. Trust. Those who share information must trust government, vendors, friends and essentially the system to use that information as it was intended, and for only as long as it was intended. Considering what occurred with personal data and the Nazi’s in the Second World War, we have evidence that the government’s use of information may be secure now, there is no guarantee that this will always be the case. Equally so is the trust of friends and family, as no level of trust can ensure that at some point, later in the transactions of information, your information will not be redistributed beyond your desired circles and beyond your control. Mayer-Schonberger cites a philosophy, which was first determined by Jeremy Bentham, a social theorist and philosopher, when designing a penal system. Known as “Bentham’s Panopticon”, the theory involved the design of a jail that allowed prison guards to watch inmates at all times or at any time, without the prisoners knowledge. The result was that inmates must assume that he is being watched, even though he may not see the watcher. By creating an environment where one assumes he or she is always under observation, the actions are then altered to avoid punishment. According to Mayer-Schonberger, the “Bentham’s Panopticon” theory applies to information sharing in a data age where one cannot know how their information will be shared, or by whom. Therefore, one must assume that the information is available to anyone and everyone at all times, and edit accordingly.
In conclusion, the Internet is an invaluable advancement, which has changed almost every aspect of our lives. We share information, connect, voice our opinions, build and destroy relationships and we impact political decisions as well as break down empires. There is not doubt that Internet tools such as Google and Facebook, contribute to our ability to participate in the public discourse and motivate us to expand beyond the limits of our physical universe. It allows us to “go where no man has gone before”, in a sense, and we continue to scope out this new frontier. As we do so, we also become aware of the dangers of posting online, and how the information that we share may one day come back to haunt us. It is apparent when researching the innumerous cases of individuals who have been harassed, stalked, abused, threatened, robbed or otherwise ruined through information that was made available online. Situations such as that of Amanda Todd, who shared a personal photograph with a stranger, and was subsequently publicly humiliated before she chose to take her own life. Her “suicide note” took the form of a YouTube video, which rapidly became viral after her death. In relation to the same case, a man commented on her memorial Facebook page, for which was reported and subsequently cost him his job. There is no limit to the number of situations online that have led to loss of employment, friendships, relationships in general, and in some cases, loss of life. In all cases, these situations remain online, buried in streams, posts, viral images etc. for what may be an eternity. The question for the future of the Internet individuals will manage in a new society that doesn’t forget, and how law will affect the right to privacy, freedom of speech, and with the Internet as a global forum, how it might navigate through international law. According to Viktor Mayor-Schonberger, “We forgive through forgetting, but the digital tools that surround us no longer let us do that.” It is a very different world that we live in where our lives and the lives of our family and friends, are readily available through a simple search online, and where our personal information is no longer our own.
As a final note, while I complete this paper, I take a moment to read my Facebook feed, and in doing so, find an post reading, “Who failed Rehtael Parsons?” published on “The Chronicle Herald” website. (Ross) I click and proceed to read how four boys raped a 15-year old teen, then posted her naked pictures, which then went viral on the Internet. Rehtael Parsons was harassed by texts and messages from other boys requesting sex and girls calling her “a slut”. Seventeen months after the rape, Rehtael Parsons locked herself in the bathroom and committed suicide. In the article, the Chronicle quotes Parson’s mother as stating that police did not pursue charges with the boys who released the rape photos as “because they couldn’t prove who had pressed the photo button on the phone.” The paper also quotes that Parson’s mother was told that the distribution of the photos were “not really a criminal issue, it’s more of a community issue.” It is apparent as I read this story that there is confusion in the law and personal rights when it comes to life online. As more and more of these situations occur, the right to privacy, the right to ones own image and words, and the right to publish will continue to be challenged and inevitably will change. I personally believe that one should have the right to privacy and the right to be forgotten, and hope that as society adapts to the cyber landscape, it realizes the importance of space and privacy in a digital age.
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