Social media allows users to share their own words, pictures and videos as well as the words, pictures and videos of others with multiple friends and the world all at once.
However, any content a user shares about someone else, which currently lasts indefinitely, could be removed if a proposed law is enacted.
Cayce Myers, a doctoral candidate in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, examined this form of law, called the General Data Protection Regulation, and the implications it would have in the U.S. This European Union proposed regulation would give EU citizens the right to completely remove any undesired information about themselves from websites.
EU law requires any country that does online business with the EU to comply with its privacy laws, according to the International Trade Administration’s website. This means the GDPR regulation would affect U.S. citizens.
On Twitter, for example, if an EU citizen wanted a photo removed and that photo was retweeted by a U.S. user, it would be deleted from both accounts along with any trace of it, said Myers.
“Not only is it a heightened privacy issue, but it also dovetails into freedom of the press issues and also the First Amendment issues of other people,” he said. “Do you have a First Amendment right to repeat what somebody else says?”
While the EU is considering giving its citizens the right to remove their digital presence entirely, U.S. users may be digitally immortal.
Some organizations in the U.S. already comply with the EU’s data sharing laws, which prohibit the sharing of personal data outside of an organization. However, under the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor agreement some personal data can be shared if the U.S. organization follows certain privacy standards.
Whether the regulation passes or not, Myers believes it shows that citizens are becoming more concerned about their privacy on the Internet.
“Social media has changed from 2004-2005 when it was a fun, new thing to something that’s very serious,” he said. “I think people see the power in it and they also see the exposure that they have in being part of social media as a user.”
Myers presented his paper Sept. 5 at the 2013 “Media and the Public Sphere: Examining the Challenges in the New Communication Landscape” conference in Athens.