California teens have a wonderful new tool to help them avoid personal responsibility and accountability online, thanks to Governor Jerry Brown. We’ll get into why the “eraser button” law is one that ranges from “irresponsible” to “ineffective” later, but first we need to explain a bit more about what it is.
The “eraser button,” signed into law Monday, is essentially a “get out of jail free” card for shitty online behavior. It’s an escape hatch for trolls, but only trolls under the age of 18.
Under the new law, websites must now allow individuals under 18 to remove their own posts on a given network, and to clearly inform them how do it. This is the first law of its kind in the nation, and some observers think this is such an amazing idea of the “how have we never thought of this before” brand, that they are already calling for other states to draft similar measures.
“Kids and teens frequently self-reveal before they self-reflect,” Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, told The Huffington Post. “In today’s digital age, mistakes can stay with and haunt kids for their entire life. This bill is a big step forward for privacy rights, especially since California has more tech companies than any other state.”
On its face, the law doesn’t sound like a terrible implication (the horror comes when you get to the implications). The “eraser button” is supposed to act as a morning-after pill for teens who act like asshats on social media, post photos of themselves drinking or doing drugs, cyberbullying each other, and the like.
They can reflect on the posts later (when they’re trying to apply for college, for instance) and brush them under the digital mat so as not to effect their chances of future success.
Strange, since a 2011 Kaplan survey of college admissions counselors showed that while only 25 percent of counselors even consult the social media handles of prospective students, only 12 percent are swayed in the negative when they find pictures of teenagers consuming alcohol or engaging in illegal activities.
So basically, social media is not even demonstrably a major factor in a teen’s collegiate chances, and the bar is set so low that only the public (and presumably proud) sharing of photos depicting illegal activities can sway a college counselor into a rejection vote for your application. Kind of strips the urgency and “common sense” of such a law.
This law has a lot of support (from Common Sense Media, Children NOW, Crime Victims United, the Child Abuse Prevention Center and the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence to name a few) and my opinion is definitely in the “unpopular” column, here.
Still, I’m going to lay out a few quick problems with the bill from where I’m sitting. Problems that make what looks like well-intentioned legislation reckless, irresponsible, and worst of all, completely ineffective. I’m going to do it in bullet points for ease of access and to promote a dialogue, but mostly just to spare you from a dry, sleep-inducing rant.
- It’s redundant – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine and many more already allow any user to delete their posts, photos and comments.
- Zero personal accountability – If you’re an ass on social media, this law helps you cover your ass and it gets you out of actually being accountable or responsible for your actions and words.
- What exactly are we ‘erasing’? – Who does this really help? Does this help the Rehtaeh Parsons’ of the world who have nude pictures of themselves spread virally among their peers on cell phones and social media? It seems like this legislation is an asset to cyberbullies, not their victims.
- This law is actually for parents – State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s office said, and I quote, “This is a good business practice that should filter through the industry. These companies are keen to avoid bad press just as parents are keen to avoid bad attention toward their children.”
- They call it a huge step for ‘privacy rights,’ but really … – It’s more accurate to say that it’s a huge step for self-censorship. Real common sense would hold that you should be smart enough to keep shit off social media if you want it to stay private, which leads into my last point …
- Nothing ever really goes away – How will this new “erase” button be any different from the already-existing “delete” buttons? How will it prevent shares and screen-caps, or other users uploading pictures of you? Worst of all, how will it prevent you from being victimized by cyberbullying?
Kids make mistakes, and teens turn into adults with regrets. People can change, and the recklessness of youth isn’t really a great indicator of adulthood or eventual maturity. That much is certainly true, but that’s not really what this law addresses, is it?
It doesn’t help teenagers grow into adults. It helps them lie.
Honestly, an easier solution than the “eraser button” is just teaching your kids to not be assholes. That, and teaching them to own up to their mistakes when they occasionally (inevitably) are. Read the bill for yourself here, and feel free to argue with me in the comments or on Twitter!