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Young adults could have right to remove embarrassing personal information from web

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Government ministers have backed an “iRights” campaign, calling for under-18s to have the right to delete embarrassing and damaging material they posted on social media that could later harm their job or education prospects.

A recent report published by iRights noted that “personal experimentation is an essential part of childhood development, yet the internet never forgets and never corrects. It can possess an infinite memory of each individual and all of their online actions.”

Errors of judgment, unhappy experiences and attitudes that were the product of immaturity are saved on the internet long after they have faded from the memory of friends and family, it said. 

Film director Beeban Kidron is leading the plans to adopt proposals encouraging websites to feature “delete buttons” and to introduce expiry dates for data acquired from under-18s.

Her research, supported by the law firm Schillings, found that the UK has existing legislation that could do much more to support children online.

“We have failed kids by not understanding that the digital world was as much a reality as any other experience they had,” Kidron said. “The internet is 25 years old; it was not designed with children and young people in mind. Childhood is a period of immense change, and to have an uncontextualised digital footprint is disturbing.”

Other rights proposed in the report include protection from illegal or distressing pages, and the ability to make informed and conscious choices.

“It is not a freedom of speech issue,” said Kilton, “because we’re not saying that other people can’t say what they like about you; we’re not saying that you can take down what other people post. But it must be easy, accessible and possible for a child to meaningfully take down what they themselves have put up.”

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, is launching a task force dedicated to improving the online lives of young people by adopting the proposals.

The campaign’s other backers include Joanna Shields, the minister of internet safety and security, Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, academics from Oxford University and the London School of Economics, prominent business figures, Mozilla, Microsoft, Sky, Barclays, and Unicef.

Sturgeon, who recently launched a commission in order for the plans to be adopted in Scotland, said in a statement: “We believe that every child and young person has the right to grow up in a safe environment – that principle applies to the virtual world too. That is why we’re proud to support the iRights coalition and to ensure the Scottish government is doing its bit to keep children and young people safe online.”

It follows a number of high-profile cases, such as when Paris Brown quit her role as the UK’s first youth and police crime commissioner for being criticised over tweets she sent between the age of 14 and 16. Some of the incriminating tweets include referring to travellers as “pikeys” and using the terms “f*gs” and “f**gots”. In one tweet she wrote: “I really wanna make a batch of hash brownies.”

Similarly, Mhairi Black, the youngest MP in the House of Commons for centuries, was mocked for tweets she posted when she was younger, including: “Maths is sh*te”, “nuns can get tae f*ck”, and another that said: “Woke up beside half a can of Tennents and a full pizza and more money than I came out with. I call that a success!”

Image: Shutterstock

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