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Is Digital Posting Forever? Yes and No

The internet expands and evolves constantly. Whether we like it or not, it’s not going away and its capacity for data expands without stop. Every infinitesimal piece of data we put into the internet, finds a place to live. So, there are always, always a few basic things you have to keep in mind when you post a profile (whether for social or business reasons), post photos, tweet your thoughts, send an email, put up a website, or sign an online petition:


• The internet will find room to squeeze your data in alongside everyone else’s;

• Your posting represents you, your image, your brand, what you’re about;

• Once you click the send button, your posting is out and can’t be re-called;

• There is probably an infinite capacity to store your golden words;

• You don’t want embarrassment or worse to haunt you later.


Now that I’ve given you Barbara’s General Posting Rules, we can explore this conundrum where infinite capacity allows transitory data to exist long beyond its intended lifespan. The question is, “Is digital posting forever?” We can also arrive at a concrete conclusion along with a little practical advice.


Those that purport that postings are forever are in the majority to be sure. They come from media, law, academia, etc. While they may not take an absolute point of view, they are not very optimistic that things will change. By and large they feel that society needs to change in terms of openness, forgiveness, a new legal system that allows reputation bankruptcy (so that you can start over) and the right to be forgotten. In fact, the European Union is exploring the right to be forgotten as an explicit legal right, but this is not the case in the US.


Jeffry Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University wrote a comprehensive article on the subject for the New York Times Magazine on July 21, 2010 “The Web Means the End of Forgetting.” He mentions that in the future people will be judged by their perceived image of truthfulness, a good person, a good parent, etc. Just as credit scores are generated by services now, the future may see reputation scores. Consequently, the concept of “reputation bankruptcy” would follow a similar format to that of today’s financial bankruptcy. It would allow people with low reputation scores to wipe out sensitive information. An important goal is to figure out and then carry out the idea of getting another chance to improve our digital image or persona in cyberspace.


What is very clear is that we need to find methods to force the disappearance of offending posts as the best type of solution. But, this goes way beyond helpful legislation and a forgiving mindset that society at present just doesn’t have. So, as all of us fumble over the cyber life of eternal memory, the pundits say we must develop new forms of empathy; a cyber soul.


The internet is still like the wild west of the 19th century. The rules are few, and laws only come up when there is a critical need (and even then it takes a while). It’s an unruly frontier for now, and the big guys are sometimes bad and sometimes good. We’ve been inundated with “cookies” to track our search habits and apps that can feed the details of our lives to corporate data mining operations. Some search engine services now make search queries anonymous after a set period of time. Others say they aren’t keeping recognizable information at all. You need to keep a watchful eye on your accounts. But, to quote Jeffrey Rosen, “Unlike God, however, the digital cloud rarely wipes our slates clean, and the keepers of the cloud today are sometimes less forgiving than their all-powerful divine predecessor."


The much smaller group of gurus who take the position that your posts don’t have to be forever, take a practical or DIY (do it yourself) stance. They want control over their online reputations and believe that they have figured out how. They often outline methods to rid you of caustic, foolish, or embarrassing postings. Often such websites as take you step by step, and then sums it up with further suggestions which may or may not work. Step 1 has you delete your social network accounts. Step 2 has you remove unwanted search results. Step 3 points the way you get rid of background check, criminal and public record results. Step 4 has you removing any usernames attached to an email address with your name. Step 5 instructs you to stay off search engines without going offline by remaining anonymous.


There are also other suggestions (i.e. ask to be removed from a website). They are commonly used in reputation management issues by PR Agencies and individuals alike. There are already small-scale privacy apps that offer disappearing data. Such companies frequently advertise on news radio stations. An app called TigerText lets text-message senders to set time limits (one minute to 30 days) after which the text disappears from the servers which store it. The text also disappears from both the senders’ and recipients’ phones as well. There are other such apps on the market.


The digital cloud rarely clears our digital presence spotless, and the corporate gate keepers of the cloud presently are less forgiving than the all-powerful we may be use to seeking forgiveness from. To put this all into plain English, most experts say that you must beware of all of your postings regardless of what and where it is because postings are forever and the internet is unforgiving. Others say that that isn’t necessarily so. My advice is that you are better off safe than sorry. There is an online discussion on the topic going by a group who advocates for the need to have control over their online reputations This is an ongoing discussion anyone can participate in about whether postings are forever on the internet. Participants also offer advice and guidance.


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