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Social media 'eraser button' law would let kids delete web history

 Should minors have the right to erase their past social media posts? (iStock)

California legislators are working to give kids more control over their digital personas -- and real-life futures -- with a bill that would allow minors to delete old web postings, particularly those of an embarrassing or career-limiting nature.

The "eraser button," or right-to-delete provision, is part of a unanimously-passed senate bill  that guarantees privacy rights for minors in California.

Under Bill 568, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and similar social media platforms would all be required under the law to remove specific posts at a minor's request. Spontaneous Facebook rants, ill-conceived tweets, pictures intended to be private, and other material that could harm a user's reputation are all subject to removal under the new bill.

Websites would also be required to give children clear removal instructions, and let new users know that their content is able to be removed upon registration.

Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to take a public stance on the bill, but as Somini Sengupta reports in The New York Times, the legislation will automatically become law if he doesn't sign it by mid-October. The law would then take effect on Jan. 1, 2015.

The bill is intended to protect "a teenager that says something on the internet that they regret five minutes later," according to Senator Darrell Steinberg, who introduced the bill. "Under this bill the websites in California will have to have the ability for the young teenager to remove that," he said to CBS San Francisco.

The bill also prohibits websites from marketing illegal goods and activities, like tattoos and alcohol, to minors. It further bans websites from giving minors' identifying information to third parties for marketing purposes.

"Who would oppose such an act of humanity?" wrote Peter Weber for The Week. "After all, people can often have their juvenile criminal records expunged or sealed when they turn 18, so why not extend the same courtesy to job-seekers trying to rid Google of that embarrassing photo they sent to their boyfriend in high school?"

Some are indeed drawing links between this bill and Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act, hailing it as an increasingly necessary measure in a world where children share more of themselves with the public than ever before.

"Do you ever find yourself worrying that, given the types of things minors deem appropriate to post on social networking webites like Facebook and Twitter, our country won't be able to produce an electable candidate for president in 40 years?" writes Cynthia Larose for the law blog Privacy & Security matters. If the legislation does pass, writes Larose, "many more of our children could become president someday."

The measure is facing some opposition, however, chiefly from the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit group advocating for an open internet.

The group wrote in a letter to lawmakers that the measure could eventually result in minors having less access to the internet.

"We are principally concerned that this legal uncertainty for website operators will discourage them from developing content and services tailored to younger users," the group said, "and will lead popular sites and services that may appeal to minors to prohibit minors from using their services."

Others still point out that there is danger in leading kids to believe that a social media "kill switch" will absolve them from past wrong-doings online.

The eraser bill will not require companies to remove deleted data from its servers -- nor can it protect a user against material that has been shared by others; "A sensational picture that has gone viral, in other words, can't be purged from the internet," wrote Sengupta in The Times.

Or, as Travis Crabtree of the eMedia Law blog puts it, the law "only applies to content actually posted by the minor and not those pictures posted by the teen's friends who have less scruples."

What are your thoughts on deleting old social media posts? Should minors be given a clean slate?

Tags: internet, law, Technology, Technology and Science, U.S.

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