On Monday night, Governor Jerry Brown (D-CA) signed an innovative law that will offer safeguards for California minors who use the Internet. Senate Bill 568 is two-fold, granting persons under the age of 18 the ability to delete information they’ve submitted online, and preventing “age-inappropriate” ads from targeting them. As of January 1, 2015, websites that collect personal information, including Twitter and Facebook, will be required to provide minors with the option to erase content they’ve created. Companies will also be obligated to describe the deletion process to their consumers.
Due to the pervasiveness of social media, the “eraser button” will allow youth, particularly teenagers, to eliminate content they often come to regret. According to Common Sense Media, “75 percent of teenagers have a profile on a social networking site.” Pew found that roughly 20 percent of teenagers regret posting certain information online, and almost 60 percent of respondents removed previously-posted material from their social media accounts.
Consider the case of Chris Latour, a student who was expelled by high school officials for posting a teacher’s account information online. Latour, who later expressed his regret, may have avoided the penalty if an eraser button existed prior to the incident.
In addition to leading to serious legal repercussions, Internet content is also reviewed by hiring managers and college administrators. Kaplan revealed that one quarter of admissions officers use social media tools and search engines to research prospective students. The ability to delete material can therefore help minors avoid mistakes with drastic consequences.
Despite the positive effects the law is projected to have, critics argue that the law falls short of making significant change. Skepticism derives from the fact that websites will not be required to permanently delete information from their internal systems. Moreover, if content is posted by a third party, there will be no way for another individual to remove it – a problem that social media users frequently encounter. Nevertheless, the law faces little opposition.
While the law is the first of its kind, its positive reception suggests that other states may adopt similar policies in the future.