Posting Remorse: Deleting isn’t Permanent on the Internet

The internet is great for sharing. But what happens when you are done with sharing?  The internet isn’t a chalkboard that you can write on and erase at your leisure. Once something is out there in the internet, it will more or less be there forever.

Take such simple things as posting a picture on Facebook to share with your friends. It may be a goofy picture of you and your college buddies but in a few years, that photo seems tasteless and may make you look bad for whatever reason. So, you delete it. Problem solved. However, your picture still lingers on the internet though you may not be able to see it and it can always be dug up to haunt you.

Anthony Weiner was just a regular old politician before his scandal leaked. Now a simple Google search defines him as a sexual deviant with his humiliation dubbed Weinergate. He may bounce back from his shame but the power of the internet will make it hard to forget what he’s done.

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Bill Keller discusses why the ability to permanently delete information off the internet is a measure that needs to be taken. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger discusses this idea in depth in his book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. The ability to forget allows people to move forward in life. Though he does not say that history should be forgotten (like Weinergate), there are certain pieces of information about individuals that should be allowed to be forgotten, such as news stories about convictions that were eventually resolved but did not have any subsequent media coverage discussing their innocence. Mayer-Schönberger proposes expiration dates on information that may help fix this problem among other ideas that may help make internet posting remorse a thing of the past.

Delete looks at the surprising phenomenon of perfect remembering in the digital age, and reveals why we must reintroduce our capacity to forget. Digital technology empowers us as never before, yet it has unforeseen consequences as well. Potentially humiliating content on Facebook is enshrined in cyberspace for future employers to see. Google remembers everything we’ve searched for and when. The digital realm remembers what is sometimes better forgotten, and this has profound implications for us all.

In Delete, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger traces the important role that forgetting has played throughout human history, from the ability to make sound decisions unencumbered by the past to the possibility of second chances. The written word made it possible for humans to remember across generations and time, yet now digital technology and global networks are overriding our natural ability to forget–the past is ever present, ready to be called up at the click of a mouse. Mayer-Schönberger examines the technology that’s facilitating the end of forgetting–digitization, cheap storage and easy retrieval, global access, and increasingly powerful software–and describes the dangers of everlasting digital memory, whether it’s outdated information taken out of context or compromising photos the Web won’t let us forget. He explains why information privacy rights and other fixes can’t help us, and proposes an ingeniously simple solution–expiration dates on information–that may.

Delete was awarded prizes in 2010 for its focus on media ecology and science and technology politics from the Media Ecology Association and American Political Science Association respectively.