I am posting this article because I wish a number of people could read it, could share it with their connections, could comment my thoughts.
And a number of pieces of information regarding myself are made available through my Linkedin account, my Twitter account, the website of my law firm. I want that the above mentioned data be collected and remembered by the members of the community with whom I am sharing such information.
The presence on a social media platform is the way to affirm our existence in the digital ecosystem. Any post and any activity in the social media environment is aimed at shaping our on-line identity; it’s aimed at building our digital reputation.
And in such a process what is the role played by the others? If something about myself that I do not want to share, that does not “like” to me (to use a very “social” language) because does not mirror my personality or because it is in any way offensive or inaccurate, is published, without my authorization, I have the legitimate expectation that such piece of information be immediately taken down. I am entitled to enforce my right to privacy, my right to erasure or blocking such information; that can be summed up in the so-called “right to be forgotten” (in a broad and non-technical sense).
But – I am wondering - within which extents is it fair that I am the only person that has the right to decide which information about myself can be available to the public and which one cannot. Within which extents can I be the only subject entitled to shape my digital reputation?
The European Court of Justice, by means of its recent decision about the Google case (Case C‑131/12), stated that, as the data subject may, in the light of his fundamental rights under Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter, request that personal information about him no longer be made available to the general public, “those rights override, as a rule, not only the economic interest of the operator of the search engine but also the interest of the general public in having access to that information upon a search relating to the data subject’s name. However, that would not be the case if it appeared, for particular reasons, such as the role played by the data subject in public life, that the interference with his fundamental rights is justified by the preponderant interest of the general public in having, on account of its inclusion in the list of results, access to the information in question”.
But the question is: who is a public figure in the social media ecosystem?
According to the guidelines issued by the Article 29 Working Party: “It is not possible to establish with certainty the type of role in public life an individual must have to justify public access to information about them via a search result. However, by way of illustration, politicians, senior public officials, business-people and members of the (regulated) professions can usually be considered to fulfil a role in public life. There is an argument in favor of the public being able to search for information relevant to their public roles and activities (…).In general, it can be said that public figures are individuals who, due to their functions/commitments, have a degree of media exposure”.
If I have a LinkedIn or a Twitter account am I a public figure? How many “connections” or “followers” or “friends” are needed to have a sufficient “degree of media exposure”? 1k? 10k? 100k? 1.000k?
And if I am an “influencer” in an online community, probably, in such a context, I have a sufficient media exposure to be considered a public figure and the members of such community can be interested in me and in my opinions. But what if someone else publishes information about me in a blog or in a completely different social platform, where I am not signed in, where I do not exist and where I have no control on.
What if I have a media exposure in a professional community (e.g. LinkedIn) and someone else posts sensitive data regarding my private life on a more general social network (e.g. Facebook)? The simple fact that I have a professional exposure in a specific online community can entitle others to post information or pictures about me, without my express consent, in completely different contexts, where I do not want to be mentioned and regarding private facts (e.g. a party with old friends) that do not concern at all my professional life?
The world is changing much more rapidly than most people realize and certainly a number of categories of the past, including the notion of “public figure”, should be reviewed and conjugated to a digital environment where everyone (not necessarily a politician or an actor), in specific contexts, may have a public space and a certain degree of public exposure (where he might be considered even an “influencer”) and, at the same time, be completely absent in others.
In such circumstances, the so-called right to be forgotten cannot be considered a black or white issue, but it should have a number of shades of grey, considering also the online contexts where our “avatars” do act and do exist and where they do not.
Certainly an extremely complex work, affecting the pillars of the democracy and involving a thorny balance of fundamental rights, that should be up to lawmakers and judges, and not to a search engine or to whatever private entity, that should not have any power to decide, but should solely comply with the decisions of the competent public authorities.