If there’s one kind of writing most of us love, It’s the kind about ourselves. We post our daily activities, blog about our thoughts on everything from politics to recipes, and pin our favourite words and photos to virtual bulletin boards. But what happens if other people write less flattering things about us? Do we have the right to have that digital trail forgotten?
The way things stand today, the answer is no. The worldwide web is obviously a popular thing (some countries even deem it a basic human right), but we tend to forget that It’s also fairly new. In less than 30 years, this technological wave has changed virtually everything we do?from chatting with friends to doing our banking. And that means the laws that govern it are being made up as we go.
Sadly, It’s going to be a few more years before those laws even start to be consistent?or enforceable. But that doesn’t help people whose lives and careers are being destroyed in the meantime. People like Lee David Clayworth, a 35-year-old teacher who’s been the victim of a vicious defamation campaign by an ex-girlfriend, and has lost not only his teaching career but any hope of a job in another field.
As the CBC reports, Clayworth’s ex-girlfriend started by stealing his computer and posting ?hundreds of comments on various social media sites, accusing him of disgusting, even criminal, behaviour.? Clayworth (who had been teaching in Malaysia) took the matter to court. He won. His ex was ordered to pay damages as well as to stop the harassment. She continued to harass him and was found guilty of contempt of court. She simply left the country, and continues to smear his name online.
Perhaps even more alarming, though, is that Google, Yahoo, and Bing have all ignored a court order to ?block Clayworth’s name from being searchable.? And when Clayworth approached individual sites and asked that the offensive posts be taken down, a few agreed. Others, in spite of the court order, got angry with him.
Clayworth is not alone in this type of online nightmare. The European Union is working on legislation to give people the ?right to be forgotten.? The idea, as the Globe and Mail reports, is to ?establish a clear legal right to obtain personal data, stop it from being processed, or delete it entirely.? Unfortunately for people like Clayworth, this potential EU law would only apply to personal data ?held by a company or government agency.?
Until lawmakers take online harassment seriously, and create consequences that are more than just a slap on the wrist, people are remarkably free to destroy jobs, reputations, and even lives. Even after the death of Rehtaeh Parsons, the cruelty and torment continue, with people smearing her name in fresh posts. Her father wrote that he did not want his daughter’s memory ?defined by a Google search.?
Young or old, It’s a problem that has the potential to affect every one of us. You don’t even need to use the Internet to have someone destroy your reputation. Only the people harassing you do. Thankfully, there are growing efforts to combat this type of cruelty, and they offer some sound advice and resources.
The PBS Kids site has a section on online bullying, with tips for bystanders as well as victims. The Canadian Clearinghouse on Cyberstalking is a ?central information repository and learning center on, and for, adult victims of electronic harassment and criminal cyberstalking,? and their resources include fact sheets and legal definitions. And for young people (20 and under) in immediate need of someone to talk to, Kids Help Phone has counsellors available 24/7 to help. Their number is 1.800.668.6868.
S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).