The Pros and Cons
I recently read about Alexi McCammond, who was known as a rising star of journalism, a young Black reporter who contributed to NBC and PBS and made it to Forbes’s 30 Under 30 list. In March, she was appointed as editor-and-chief of Teen Vogue at age 27. Shortly thereafter, racist and homophobic posts she’d tweeted 10 years earlier resurfaced. When the readership and staff revolted, McCammond parted ways with her new employer.
There is no doubt those comments were offensive and should not have been made. But the question I examine in this blog is whether offensive comments made years ago should forever remain on social media or should those posts disappear as they age.
Stacey Steinberg, a legal skills professor at the University of Florida and supervising attorney of the Gator TeamChild Juvenile Law Clinic, asks how do we call out hate speech made by children without creating a culture of constraint? “We don’t want children to say offensive things online,” she said., “But we also need to figure out what to do once that happens.” We need to both teach our kids a new set of skills, and, she said, establish “public policy and perhaps law to create some sort of a social contract.”
Some question whether what children post online — and what others post about children — should follow them into adulthood, potentially affecting their academic and vocational careers. As tech companies target younger children with apps like Facebook’s Messenger Kids, children go online at ever-earlier ages. “A whole lot of content, whether it’s accurate or not, is there with you when you become an adult,” said digital literacy specialist Joanne Orlando.
David Dockterman, a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, points out that this “presents big questions for which we don’t yet have answers.” “When should a person’s ‘permanent digital record’ start recording, if ever? To what extent should social media be a space for trial-and-error exploration around identity and social behavior?"
These are excellent questions. The key point for me is whether one’s mistakes at an early, impressionable age, when their reasoning processes have not been fully developed should haunt them in their adult and later years or should they be timed out?
It’s worth pointing out that in Europe, children and parents sometimes have a version of the “right” to be timed out called the “right to be forgotten.” They can petition data companies to unlink them in search engines — even from things that they’ve posted themselves — from information that’s no longer relevant to their reputation.
I don’t think those comments should be deleted from social media just because they were made by children. I’m also against petitioning social media companies to take them off their search engines. It creates a slippery slope phenomenon whereby ill-advised comments by individuals, like politicians and Hollywood stars, should also be subject to being timed out. Where do we draw the line?
We need to be held accountable for what we do and say even as youngsters. Perhaps ill-advised comments can be explained away as being the remarks of a teenager who acts impulsively, and posts comments on social media not realizing they will be there forever.
The key point for me is whether one’s mistakes at an early, impressionable age, when their reasoning processes have not been fully developed should haunt them in their adult and later years or should they be timed out? I also think colleges and universities have a right to know about these comments because it affects the profile of students, even as youngsters, with respect to admission.
I don’t think those comments should be deleted from social media just because they were made by children. It creates a slippery slope phenomenon whereby ill-advised comments by individuals like politicians and Hollywood stars should also be subject to being timed out. Where do we draw the line?
Yes, I would establish a controversial standard of not “erasing” comments from social media and many will disagree with me. However, it is up to parents to guide their children about what is appropriate and inappropriate to say on social media and what the consequences might be if offensive comments (or images) are posted online.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on July 6, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.