The Right to be Forgotten Relies on the Individual

The “Right to be Forgotten” is only the start to what is bound to be a long and complicated chapter in the history of the internet. The European Union ruling is not absolute, and as we continue to move through the first half of the 21st century I believe reimagined societal norms and values will be what keep our embarrassing Facebook photos and radical blog posts from affecting our “real” lives.

To begin, the internet’s ability to never forget is affecting the way millions of people live their lives (Jeffrey Rosen 1). When Facebook achieved ubiquitous popularity a few years ago, it seemed as if the world was in fervor to post about their everyday lives, whether that included seeing their kid’s school play, drinking with a few friends, or attending weddings. But now that the less-than-kosher posts and tweets have gotten people barred from job interviews or fired, many are either dialing back the amount of content they post, deleting old pictures and posts, or both. Also, the EU financed a campaign called “‘Think B4 U Post!’ that urges young people to consider ‘potential consequences’ of publishing photos of themselves or their friends without ‘thinking carefully’ and asking for permission” (Rosen 4).

I think strategies of this nature are good because laws can only go so far in telling people what to do; in most cases, you are responsible for how you present yourself to the world. A law can remove embarrassing posts or images, but that doesn’t erase the fact that you committed said acts. If someone does take a regrettable photo of you, they should have the courtesy to ask you for permission to post it. Or they should ask themselves: “How would this affect John if I posted this picture?” There is another emerging social norm that Rosen briefly mentions in his article. At dinners, Rosen writes, “someone has requested, in all seriousness, ‘Please don’t tweet this’—a custom that is likely to spread” (8). These timeless values—self-respect, courtesy towards others, integrity—need to be reimagined for the digital natives and should be passed from parent to child, in much the same way a parent passes on the adage that lying is wrong. Good instruction in the household can waver as the child matures, but for better or worse we are all influenced by our parents’ guiding principles.

Rosen’s article suggests a variety of other ways to curb the internet’s impact, but I think the first line of defense is the individual. If the internet continues to remember everything, then people will need to rely on themselves to maintain their own image and the image of their friends, family, and coworkers. The internet is a great tool, and as its creators and users we need to be responsible for how we interact with it. Any tool made by man has the power to ruin us if we don’t appreciate its capabilities and use it wisely.

Rosen, Jeffrey. “The Web Means the End of Forgetting.” The New York Times Magazine. 21 July 2010. Web.

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