Pin It
Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 16.32.24
via YouTubeKaty Perry in Last Friday Night

Should we wipe clean our social media when we hit 18?

Proposed legislation will mean you can easily delete your awks teenage Facebook history

The Tories announced on Friday that Facebook users will be given a new legal right to wipe clean all photos, messages and information they put online before turning 18, under a manifesto pledge from Theresa May. It's a joyful sentiment for those of us who had some messy years wearing too much emo makeup and ugly braces, but is the underlying message more sinister?

Only last week 19-year-old Labour activist Bethany Barker was forced to resign as general secretary of Nottingham Labour Students after sending "anti-Semitic, homophobic and racist" tweets between 2012-14, including one which said: "I cooked brandon chicken and rice, supporting the nigger race."

Barker is one of the people new legislation would have likely benefited, but the real question is whether we should make it easier for people to delete their online history for this reason at all.

“Maybe we deserve the chance to begin our careers unencumbered by the past”

Although there's much to be said about the teenage brain not being as developed as a fully-grown adult's, I know for a fact that none of my friends were jaunting around the internet referring to black people as the n-word when we were 14. Even at that age you are able to take responsibility for your words and actions, and it could be argued that in some ways it's a good thing Barker was made to recognise her previous prejudices.

Of course, that's not to say that Barker should have had to resign from her post, or that one's views can't change and mature between the ages of 14 and 19. She didn't establish such negative opinions of minorities at such a young age on her own and maybe, like the rest of us will if this new legislation goes through, she deserved the chance to begin her career as a Labour activist unencumbered by the past.

The fact that it's emerged that employers are increasingly using social media websites to screen job applicants is another convincing reason as to why May's legislation might be a good idea. Not getting a job because you've "liked" a few questionable pages, in the opinion of your employer, seems harsh and an abuse of power.

What I do worry is that it might set a precedent to dismiss the things people older than 18 say online too. Not one but two newly-elected Tory councillors have been caught out for their behaviour on social media in the past few weeks. 

Police are now investigating Robert Davies, the councillor for Forth and Endrick in Scotland, who posted a number of racist tweets as recently as last December, essentially calling black people cannibals. Another Tory councillor, Nick Harrington, tweeted "Thanks Ireland. You can keep your f-king gypsies. Hard border coming folks!" yesterday during the Eurovision song contest, when Ireland didn't give the UK any points. He's been suspended from the party. It would be awful if we stopped taking their actions seriously.

“It might set a precedent to dismiss the things people older than 18 say online too”

Needless to say it's interesting that May is almost giving out a free pass for those of us who have made mistakes in our youth, considering that under her leadership the UK government passed into the law the Investigatory Powers Act, aka the "Snooper's Charter" – known for being “the most extreme spying powers ever seen”.

Even though ultimately I think it's right that Facebook users will be given this useful tool in terms of privacy, you do have to wonder about the type of powerful people who are most likely to benefit from a function that deletes teenage misdemeanours. But hopefully it's mainly just used to save ex-bracefaces like me some embarrassment.