Everyone has embarrassing posts from their past spread across the internet, from photos that show up when you Google your name or are buried within the depths of your Facebook profile, to selfies taken during an emo teenage phase, to fanposts about One Direction or Twilight. At what point do we have the right to erase those parts of our lives from the internet?
At the Foghorn, we believe there are several things to consider as we explore this topic, mainly differentiating between stupid Facebook statuses from middle school and racist, sexist, or offensive tweets that come up to ruin your career. There is a level of accountability that needs to exist on the internet so that someone can’t post something horrific without consequence.
In a perfect world, it would be a basic human right to have everything you posted in middle school be completely erased, no questions asked. Many of us who are now college-aged came of age during the advent of social media and perhaps didn’t know how truly permanent the internet is. With that being said, as much as we’d love to erase ourselves from the digital world, it isn’t entirely realistic.
First off, no matter how old a post or photo is, once it’s out there, it’s fair game for people to take photos of, quote, or replicate it. Ideally, we would have the right to delete anything we personally posted or owned. Which then draws the question: how do you prove it was you that posted on something like a fan account, or an old Twitter account you long forgot the password to? The answer remains unclear.
We must emphasize that if you do or post something genuinely bad or offensive, you should be held responsible and shouldn’t be able to just run away from your wrongdoings. In these cases, it is up to the public to differentiate between childhood posts that no longer reflect who you are and what you stand for, and posts by people saying or doing unforgivable things, whether past or present.
With all of that in mind, so-called “cancel culture” can sometimes go too far, and we should be careful of how far we go to bring someone down. While some people deserve to be shunned for their numerous offenses, others — especially those who demonstrate that they have learned and grown from their mistakes — don’t deserve the backlash they receive. As the internet continues to progress and new norms are formed as we speak, it is nearly impossible to decide whether digital erasure is possible. However, we believe that you should have the right to delete mindless middle school posts without repercussions, but should be held accountable for any racist, misogynistic, and otherwise unacceptable posts — no matter when they were made.