Digital Culture

At what age are we accountable for the things we do online?

Image Credit: Daniel Aleksanderson

By Mimi Benjamin

In an age of apology videos from influencers, and light being shone on past actions, the question of accountability for what we say and do online is inevitable. For instance, Elle Darby, a very successful Youtube and Instagram star, lost 37,000 subscribers and 100,000 Instagram followers in 30 days when racist tweets were uncovered, originally posted when she was 17. Her apology video was only 3 minutes and 41 seconds long, which many considered unacceptable after the horrid nature of her tweets. 

In the video she acknowledged that the tweets were ‘racist, fatphobic, homophobic’, stating: ‘I am ashamed, I am disgusted at myself.’ What really interested me, however, was her original Instagram statement. Here, she said ‘those comments are not a reflection of who [herself and her fiance Connor Swift] are as grown adults, nor who we were at the time they were made.’ If they are not a reflection of who she is now, or who she was when they were tweeted in 2009, who are they a reflection of?

Many may say that at 17 you are still a child, but in the UK you can drive a car and you can be tried in court as an adult. So surely, by 17, you should know right from wrong? Or at least know that what you’re posting on the internet could be harmful to others. Elle Darby is not the only Youtuber who has used their age as a way of excusing behaviour. We’ve seen it all before with other YouTube stars – James Charles in particular comes to mind.

At what stage does society deem that we are fully responsible for our actions, instead of being able to blame it on youth and a lack of life experience? Broadly speaking we are expected to make mistakes in our youth, to learn our limits and make our own choices, which at many points may be the wrong ones. We are repeatedly told that our teenage years and twenties are the ones to experiment in and ‘find ourselves.’ So why can we use our age as a way of excusing things we’ve done online, or in general?

Is it at 18, 21 or 30? Alternatively, when attributing blame, does the context surrounding a post matter? Where do we draw the line? For me and many others, at the age of 17 you should know when the language you are using is racist, fatphobic or homophobic. To post something online, you have to: get your phone or laptop, type something out, (reread it possibly) and press post. It’s not as if an intrusive thought of yours somehow just shows up as a tweet – you have to consciously post it. And, in the case of Elle Darby, you can do this with hateful language again and again, only to blame it on age when it causes your career to plummet years later. So where do we draw the line

Categories: Digital Culture

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