Magical Internet eraser now legally required in California

A silly bill to protect young people on social media

Last week, California Governor Jerry Brown finally did something to protect young people from abusive social media. It was silly and pointless, but at least he did something!

Specifically, Brown signed the “Eraser Button” bill into law. Senate Bill No. 568 (here it is) demands that by 2015, every Internet site or app must give underage users in California the ability to remove content that they later regret having posted. Never again will a teen be haunted by reputation-ruining party pics or abusive cyberbullying. Unless, of course, the offending material was uploaded, shared, or re-tweeted by someone else. Which it always is.

The fact is, and it’s an obvious one, that all of the major social media sites already let you remove your own posts. That’s not the problem. The problem is stuff that other people post about you. Yes, sometimes a teen will be harmed by something that they themselves foolishly posted. But the harm comes from other people seeing it and sharing it. By then, removing the offending content is just a sure-fire way of ensuring that one’s tormenters pay special attention to it and spread it far and wide. You’d think Governor Brown would be familiar with the Streisand Effect, the phenomenon whereby actions taken to remove information from the Internet result directly in the widespread distribution of that very information. After all, it was named after Barbara Streisand’s disastrous attempt to suppress a photo of her California residence.

So why not go after the real problem? Why not draft a bill that would let teens remove abusive content posted by other teens? Well, because define “abusive,” that’s why. Giving every teen the power to remove every other teen’s information at their own discretion is, freedom of expression issues aside, a sure-fire way to exponentially multiply and escalate teen-on-teen conflict. Just imagine the drama.

Ultimately, there’s no reason to oppose SB 568. Just because most sites already comply with it doesn’t mean that all sites shouldn’t be required to. I have a bigger problem with another part of the law, which bans the online marketing to minors of, among other evils, an “etching cream that is capable of defacing property.” But what the heck, you take the good with the bad, and this bill is no great evil.

But it’s also not a “groundbreaking protection for our kids” as state Senator Darrell Steinberg boasts. In fact, it’s not a bill for kids at all. It’s for grown-ups who need to feel that they’ve done something.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown

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