We should have the right to forget. We are not our past. Outdated feelings, opinions and habits we no longer identify with should have no effect on the people we are trying to be in the present.
Why should your decision to enter the professional world be hindered because you were in that awful movie back in college or voiced a political view which makes your skin crawl today? The body’s cells are constantly replacing themselves to facilitate our growth and decay as human beings, so we should apply the same thinking to our online memories.
With our reliance on social media today, the lines between the personal, professional and political have never been more blurred and the ability to exercise control over your data will become very important.
Social media has a tremendous effect on Canadian politics and, if the 2015 federal election is any indication, continues to be a powerful force behind political engagement. Social media sites like Facebook can serve as databases which campaigning parties could find useful.
In the United States political parties can purchase commercial customer information dug up by companies who specialize in trawling the web for relevant data. Even seemingly mundane tenets of your everyday life can prove to be useful to political campaigns.
In a 2013 study by National Media Research, Planning & Placement, it was revealed that, within their sample group, vodka drinkers were more likely to vote Democrat and bourbon drinkers were more likely to vote Republican. This information goes on to help with targeting ads.
In Canada, that sort of information is protected. Currently, your liquor choice probably won’t affect the type of ads you see. But this is still noteworthy for Canadians because of how it allows political parties to decide where to spend their money.
With the 2015 federal campaign being the longest one in recent history, the cash-rich Tories had the funds to run at full power. Having access to this type of information would have evened the financial playing field. Parties with less money could focus on people who would be more likely, according to statistics like the ones in the Natmedia study, to receive their message positively.
Social media was everywhere in the 2015 federal election. Twitter had a positive effect for Green Party leader Elizabeth May, allowing her to participate in the Globe and Mail debate. She was not invited, but could post video responses which people watched in tandem with the televised debate.
Twitter showed its capacity to hinder when, back in September, a video of Scarborough Conservative candidate Jerry Bance urinating into a coffee mug received 26,000 tweet mentions and caused #peegate to trend in only 24 hours. #Peegate resulted in Bance being dropped as a candidate, but he wasn’t the only politician to suffer at the hands of their own past via social media.
Four Conservative, two NDP and two Liberal candidates have been dropped in the months leading up to election day over past social media gaffes. Offending posts touched on a range of topics from Sarah Palin and Israel to threats of physical violence levied towards people who keep bringing up global warming.
Further, politicians are high profile individuals and don’t need to be told their public actions will be scrutinized. It’s tough to trust someone in a position of power who has made comments that run counter to your beliefs, even if those comments were made in the past. Unfortunately for the politicians involved, such leaks are taken as evidence of their true feelings.
It’s tough to know where you’ll be 10 years from now and whether that involves a potential career in politics. We know the power of social media and for many of us that means walking a thin line between posting the latest “dank memes” and creating professional content. We grow up and our values change. Should our past online presence infringe upon the people we’re trying to be in the present?
Websites like forget.me are dedicated to helping you exercise your right to forget and do so by helping remove search results about you on Google and Bing which you have deemed outdated or inappropriate. Tools like this should be at the crux of the social media discussion moving forward.
In a May 2014 ruling, the European Union decided that its data protection laws do, in fact, extend to search engines and that EU citizens maintain the right to ask search engines to remove links with personal information about them. The ruling also states that the right to be forgotten is not absolute, it must be examined on a case by case basis to ensure that it doesn’t infringe on fundamental rights such as freedom of expression.
This is most certainly a step in the right direction and with social media ingraining itself more and more in our everyday lives, it’s important to start having these conversations in Canada. You are not your past and moving forward we need access to the tools necessary for us to be the people we want to be without worrying about the people we were.
You are allowed to grow and change as a person and no amount of past dirt, which should be considered irrelevant, should change that.