California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the so-called “eraser bill” into law earlier this week, legislation that permits people to erase photographs on Facebook, Instagram, and the rest.
The bill is specifically for California teens who share photos that may negatively affect them as they apply for college or a first job. The new law requires social media websites to permit children under 18 to remove posts as of January 2015.
State Senate President Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat who wrote the bill, referenced a recent Kaplan study in a statement to the press. It found that more than one in four college admissions officers checks students on Google and Facebook as part of the admissions process.
San Francisco nonprofit Common Sense Media advocated for the bill to help teens remove images that could hurt their careers. Its chief executive, James Steyer, said in interviews with the press that kids sometimes don’t think before they post.
In his statement, Steinberg added that the bill is designed to protect children “who often act impetuously with postings of ill-advised pictures or messages before they think through the consequences.”
What about digital residue?
In theory, this new law will ensure that their digital skeletons would not haunt them in their professional lives. But how about in practice?
News of the bill’s passing generated mixed reactions from Internet commentators. On Reddit, the popular community forum, the top commenter points out that this legislation doesn’t contain prevent lewd images from being circulated on other sites, including blogs. Even if a teen deletes an embarrassing image from Facebook, it may well exist elsewhere.
[Editors' Note: A related issue that is troubling lawmakers: Teens have been targeted by "revenge porn" operators. These cases are notoriously tricky to prosecute.]
This law also doesn’t adequately address how we remove all the digital residue. What about all those reposts, comments, and tweets? It doesn’t offer a real solution to this problem, especially considering that most social media sites already have an option to delete content.
As Slate points out, there is no such thing as Internet infallibility, and the bill may be giving teens a false sense of security. A delete button isn’t really enough — what we really need is a “time machine” to erase all traces of an incriminating photo.
The California State Senate unanimously approved the measure, which the State Assembly later approved 62-12.