On Monday California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation to require web companies to remove online posts and activities if a California minor requests it. The new “eraser law” begins to take effect in 2015.
The bill was authored by California State Senate President Darrell Steinberg and the general thinking is that the online mistakes which children make early on should not haunt them later in life. So far so good….
Although undoubtedly well-intentioned, this bill has multiple limitations which at best renders it moot, and at worst accidentally supports and increases bad decision making among children and parents.
Under the proposed bill there is no guarantee that a particularly offensive post won’t effectively be seen by parents, potential employers, teachers, or college admission counselors – even after it has been removed by the profile owner.
Let’s say for an example that someone ELSE posts an offensive photo of your child (as in the typical case of cyberbullying) this bill would be ineffective because only the owner of a profile can request removal of its content. Moreover, if the image is copied and pasted elsewhere (and so-on and so-on) this bill would continue to be ineffective, exponentially.
I believe that this well-intentioned bill could create a false sense of security. Here’s what I predict:
- Kids in California may begin to think that the “eraser law” will absolve them of personal responsibility. “Well, I’ll just post it now, and get rid of it later”. Children and parents might very well miss the point that once something is posted there IS NO ERASER, ever. Anything posted can be reposted and never, ever goes away – ever.
- This bill has the potential to accidentally help shield cyberbullies from identification. If a 14 year old posts an aggressive post/photo about a classmate, and then removes it later – the reposting cycle will continue extending the effective harm of the action. But, the “eraser” could absolve the bully of the responsibility of the original post.
The biggest issue with teens/tweens and poor online behavior is that they don’t have the requisite physical, emotional or social maturity to employ their already limited impulse control. This bill will become an additional way to “worry about it later”.
Unless an offending post can be removed completely from the Internet (which would be impossible), this bill will do more harm than good.
I completely support the concept of attempting to help children navigate these new vehicles for communication while using technology to become members of a largely digital social society. But let’s not infantilize this generation’s already diminishing sense of personal responsibility.
The answer is not: “Ask Instagram to remove that sexually provocative photo I shouldn’t have uploaded.”The answer is: “Don’t be an idiot…any decision that begins with unzipping your pants should give you pause.”
Life in general does not have a DeLorean-time machine eraser button. Let’s teach our children to think BEFORE they act as they travel toward adulthood. Otherwise, what the hell are we doing as parents?
Jesse Weinberger is an Internet Safety Expert, digital strategist, instructor, and the owner of OvernightGeek University. Weinberger has created an online course for parents and families called Internet Safety for Families. She has been teaching parents, schools, and students how to navigate online and mobile risks for over 10 years. Learn how to keep your children safe online at www.OvernightGeekUniversity.com