Many of us share large proportions of our lives with the social spheres without a second thought. We disregard the implications or consequences of sharing so much data, and do not consider what happens to it, even if we choose to delete it. How do we preserve our digital identity and what are our rights if we want to be ‘forgotten’.

We live in an age, where many of us have had social media accounts for a number of years, and if we scroll back a couple of years and read old tweets and status’, some of us cringe a little. I recently did this with my Twitter account, and there were so many statuses, which I wanted to delete, that it resulted in me deleting my entire account and I decided to start fresh with a new account.

So what happens to all the tweets I posted on my old account?

Well as far as I can tell, that’s the end of my account as a stream, however if I type in my old username into a Google search, there is still information and links to old posts, meaning that some traces of my old account still exist, and therefore deleting the account, hasn’t deleted everything associated with it. Sites such as ‘Myneeek’ and ‘Twicsy’ seem to have stored data from my old account consisting of my basic profile information and a few photos associated with the account. “Twicsy’ isn’t a website I’d ever come across before conducting my privacy research, yet it seems this website contains a lot of information associated with my old Twitter account. Although few of the photos can be displayed, all of the captions I wrote along with my Twitter photos are still there.

Twitter reveals a lot about us as people, and much in the same way that historians examine objects from the past, the ‘Twitter Archive’ at the Library of Congress is a system for collecting and archiving Tweets with the aim of preserving modern day culture. The agreement between the Library of Congress and Twitter was signed in 2010 meaning that the Library of Congress would receive an ongoing stream of tweets from 2006.

Do we know all of what we have shared on the Internet? Can we even remember all of those grumpy statuses and tweets that we should have thought twice about before clicking ‘share’? My answer to that is most definitely not. I recently downloaded my Facebook archive and I was shocked by how much information there is retained about me. Browsing through my catalogue of Facebook data was like taking a walk down memory lane. Some of the conversations I’d had with people and the places I had checked in at sparked real emotions and feelings of nostalgia. I also felt worried about how much online rubbish I had accumulated in a reasonably short amount of time. If there was a way of deleting back from a certain year then I certainly would, but Facebook only offers deletion as ‘all or nothing’ unfortunately. Is this the price we pay for using these free websites? It raises ethical questions, such as, do these sites have a duty to allow us to pick and choose the information we want to keep on the Internet, and the information we want to be deleted forever.                                                                                                                

The EU ruled last year that consumers could ask Google to remove potentially damaging content about them, known as the ‘Right to be forgotten’. This sparked split opinions with people on opposite sides of the argument for free online speech. Some say that being able to pick and choose what is online damages free speech; US Judge Ernest Goldsmith declared that editing Google’s search results would do just that, which is in contrast to the decision of the EU regulators.

Arguing for the right to be forgotten, Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, views online data as being something that should be within a person’s capacity to control. The Right to be forgotten becomes a form of Censorship, but why is that a bad thing? ‘Without the freedom to be private, we have precious little freedom at all.’

From looking in to my own online presence, I will be diving further in to the online world of privacy and the right to be forgotten. I have concluded that there is too much information out there, which I don’t want to share anymore. The fact that the website ‘I know where your cat lives’ does know where my cats live from photos I posted on a Twitter account that no longer exists, concerns me. Although that is a lighthearted website with no seriously damaging information on, it is quite incredible and indeed scary, how much of our lives are broadcast online, without us fully acknowledging to what extent. 

Written by

Katherine Thomson

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