Pippa Allsop
Posted on 18 Sep 2015

iRights is too powerful a tool for fickle youth

This article was first published in Solicitors Journal on 19 August 2015 and is reproduced by kind permission (www.solicitorsjournal.com)

Pippa Allsop disagrees with the initiative aimed at protecting children, saying lessons of responsibility are best learnt the hard way

The iRights campaign is a recently launched civil society coalition, with an impressive list of supporters that includes the NSPCC, Save the Children, Barclays, Microsoft, and Sky.

The initiative 'seeks to make the digital world a more transparent and empowering place for children and young people'. This objective is to be achieved through a 'universal framework of digital rights', designed to assist and support children under 18 to use the internet 'creatively, knowledgably, and fearlessly.'

  • The proposed measures are comprised as follows:  
  • The right to remove;
  • The right to know;
  • The right to safety and support;
  • The right to informed and conscious choices; and
  • The right to digital literacy. All of these measures have a common element: protection. It is indisputable that the digital safeguarding of young people should be an absolute priority in a fast-evolving and ever-shifting technological world. It is imperative that society seeks to protect against the threats the internet poses.

The right to remove would provide an 'unqualified right' for children to easily edit or completely erase any content they have posted online. Instead of protecting children, this measure would serve to encourage a blasé attitude, where young people are mistakenly taught that their actions do not have consequences of which they should be mindful. Even worse, such a tool could perpetuate the already prolific and serious issue of online bullying among young people.

A balance between the law seeking to protect and spilling over into mollycoddling must be achieved, so that individuals are not held responsible for their actions because they know someone else will take care of them.

In this instance, the right to remove would effectively allow anyone under the age of 18 to post whatever they choose online without any thought for the repercussions. For me, such a power would not serve to address 'errors of [judgement], unhappy experiences, and attitudes that were the product of immaturity', but rather encourage the negative behaviour that iRights seeks to address. Young people should not be allowed, or worse encouraged, to act with impunity. 

 In addition, any arbitrary cut-off age assumes that attaining the age of 18 automatically carries a level of responsibility, whereas if someone posts something foolish online in their youth then it should be viewed as such by those passing judgement in the future (this is on the assumption that we are mainly thinking of prospective educating bodies and/or employers).

And if in fact we are talking about something so foolish it needs to be erased from all record and cannot just be attributed to the folly of youth, then should anyone be given the opportunity to remove something so significant?

Young people need to understand that with every right comes a responsibility. The right to remove does not teach children the proper lessons about the use of the internet, nor the more important lesson, which is that facing up to your mistakes, rather than erasing them, is a crucial part of growing up and learning to take responsibility.