There was a lot of talk in the media this week about iRights: the plan to give children the right to permanently delete posts and photographs they have posted online, and to give posts and video by under 18s an expiry date. The proposal has been led by Baroness Kidron, backed by charities (including Save the Children and Barnardos) as well as some search engines. It is designed to prevent old photographs and video from endangering job prospects in later life, and I think it is a fantastic idea.
It’s hard enough for young people to get the jobs they want, after finishing higher education with crippling debts, therefore it will be harder for them to save, harder to get onto the housing ladder and more difficult to generally live the life they want to lead. Any help we can give them in finding a job and a career has got to be a good thing. Being punished by an old photograph of someone vomiting in a bin during the school prom should not encroach upon their perceived ability to do a good job.
I think this plan should extend to all posts and video relating to a young person (or indeed any person), not just the ones they might post themselves. Sure, your future boss doesn’t want to see you swimming naked on Brighton beach when you were 17, nor do they want to see you swimming naked in the paddling pool aged 7. My Facebook thread is constantly populated by pictures of toddlers on potties, babies in the bath and parent status updates complaining about their ‘awful’ child. To those who feel it’s OK to share such private photos and thoughts: how would you feel if it was about you? Do you really intimately know everybody who is your ‘friend’ on Facebook, as well as everyone who may have access to your so-called-friend’s account? Not only do we not know where these pictures might end up, surely nobody except a biological parent (or extra-caring grandparent) is really interested in that sort of stuff. Certainly not that bloke you used to work with in Accounts.
My parents have a series of highly embarrassing pictures of me at home. I truly never want anyone to see these god-awful photographs (taken at times when I had awful hair, the years of terrible teeth, my ‘awkward’ phase where I looked like my brother, my other awkward phase where I looked like Jonathan Creek, for example). Fortunately for me all I have to do is get into my mum’s photo cupboard, remove the offending images and burn them. Job done. If these pictures were instantly uploaded to Facebook without my permission, to be circulated around the world to old family acquaintances that I have never even met, I would be beyond upset. Parents – please, just think before you share.
Children have a right to delete this sort of stuff. What you might have thought hilarious at 13, you certainly won’t at 23. Facebook is not just a social network but a database of embarrassment that continues to haunt people via Google searches for years to come. (Those video clips of someone doing the cinnamon challenge last year? Delete all you like, but they may still be able to be found online, by people who don’t even know you and were never even friends with you in the first place.) Every photograph, every post and every video should have a shelf life. Our immaturity has a shelf life (one would hope) so this should should be reflected online. Every person has a right to privacy, which should be displayed both by us (would your child really be happy to read in later life that you thought they were a terrible baby?) as well as by the internet service providers. We have a duty to help young people. Let’s not make it even harder for them.