Jul 28, 2014
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Teens Need an Internet Eraser

Teens Need an Internet Eraser
Can you imagine being held accountable for all of the rash and inadvisable statements and actions of your teenage years?  It’s just not the human way.  For most of us, teen rebellion and angst blessedly recedes into faded memories held by a few.   However, for emerging adults of Generation Y, who possess digital persona from birth, there is no longer the liberty of growing up in private.  This predicament even concerns Eric Schmidt, the Executive Chairman of Google, who stated this week that “The lack of a delete button on the Internet is a significant issue.”  He was referring specifically to the problem of young people being hampered forever by their social media history.   And not to mention – that of their parents.  Yes, so many of us are prone to posting photos of our progeny online that seem cute today, but next year … or the next decade … or forever?

There is a growing awareness among young people that they need to review and purge their social media histories before applying for colleges and jobs.  However, the nature of the Internet is that once you post something – a statement, an image, a barely discipherable tweet – that is available for anyone else to download and save.  Even the sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg could not avoid this unsavory reality.  Randi Zuckerberg once had a “Facebook Freakout” over a intimate family photo that she posted on Facebook, which was tweeted out to the public by one of her over one million “friends.”  The only time I had the audacity to chastise a friend on Facebook was when she posted a photo of her darling young son making a cute grimace while seated on the toilet.   Hell no, I thought!   There are so many avenues by which that photo may resurface to haunt that poor boy later on.  Have you heard of the photo app Snapchat, which famously boasts that users can unrestrainedly share photos because any “snap” will self-destruct in seconds?  Well, it has just been exposed that there is a technical way to recover deleted photos and such snaps have been used against their takers in divorce and other legal cases. 

This matter is a public policy issue and not merely an individual’s issue.  The teen years are when we humans painstakingly and painfully grow into adulthood by taking liberties with our self-expression.  To put the weight of self-censorship on a young person’s shoulders is more than some teens can pull off.   Last month in England, a seventeen-year old girl who aspired to public service, was taken down by some unsavory media tactics which publicized offensive content from her personal tweets.  Currently at the center of national controversy, Paris Brown will probably be punished well into adulthood for the admittedly infantile and callous comments she made during the ages of 14 to 16.

To return to Eric Schmidt of Google, he further stated, although blithely, that teenagers should consider changing their name at the age of 18 in order to ditch their youthful digressions, rants and whatever else needed to be said to get through those teen years.   "I propose that at the age of 18, you should, just as a policy, change your name.  Then you can say, 'That really wasn't me; I really didn't do that!"  Schmidt said at the conference.  My reaction to Schmidt’s suggestion was a little selfish.   For a teen to feel there is no alternative but to discard a name which is her identity and so thoughtfully bestowed upon her by her parents (that’s the selfish part) – that’s just unfair.   I would rather suggest using a child’s middle name or nickname throughout their youth and then releasing their given name for public consumption only in adulthood.   Heck, in addition to debutante balls and bat/bar mitzvahs, we wired parents could be hosting name-unveiling parties.  This sounds ridiculous, but dire situations call for some creative solutions.  As Schmidt put it, "There are times when erasure [of data] is the right thing...and there are times when it is inappropriate.  How do we decide?  We have to have that debate now."

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