A Kinder, Gentler Internet: California’s “Erase Button”

cyber bullyingIn the early nineties, the internet was greeted with immense optimism and anticipation. Scarcely a week went by without some major personality – Al Gore and Bill Gates come to mind – championing its development, saying it would bring the world together and lead to “the information age”. After just a few years, these predictions were being mocked by just about everyone on the planet who had access.

Rehtaeh_ParsonsYes, despite all that has been made possible by the internet, the heady optimism that was present in those early days seem horribly naive by today’s standards. In addition to making virtually any database accessible to anyone, the world wide web has also enabled child pornographers, hate speech, conspiracy theorists and misinformation like never before.

What’s more, a person’s online presence opens them to new means of identity theft, cyberbullying, and all kinds of trolling and harassment. Who can forget the cases of Amanda Todd or Rethaeh (Heather) Parsons? Two young women who committed suicide due to relentless and disgusting bullying that was able to take place because there simply was no way to stop it all.

amanda_toddsuicide.jpeg.size.xxlarge.letterboxAnd with the ever expanding online presence of children and youths on the internet, and little to no controls to monitor their behavior, there are many campaigns out there that hope to reign in the offenders and protect the users. But there are those who have gone a step further, seeking to put in place comprehensive safeguards so that trollish behavior and hurtful comments can be stopped before it becomes a permanent part of the digital stream.

One such person is California Governor Jerry Brown, who recently signed a bill into law that requires all websites to provide an online “erase button” for anyone under 18 years of age. The stated purpose of the law is to help protect teens from bullying, embarrassment and harm to job and college applications from online posts they later regret. The law, which is designated SB568, was officially passed on Sept. 23rd and will go into effect Jan 1st, 2015.

kid-laptop-156577609_610x406Common Sense Media, a San Francisco based non-profit organization that advocates child safety and family issues, was a major supporter of the bill. In a recent interview, CEO James Steyer explained the logic behind it and how it will benefit youths:

Kids and teens frequently self-reveal before they self-reflect. 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.

The law is not without merit, as a 2012 Kaplan survey conducted on college admissions counselors shows. In that study, nearly a quarter of the counselors interviewed said they checked applicants’ social profiles as part of the admission process. Of those counselors, 35% said what they found – i.e. vulgarities, alcohol consumption, “illegal activities” – negatively affected their applicants’ admissions chances.

smartphoneteensBut of course, the bill has its share of opponents as well. Of those who voted against it, concerns that the law will burden websites with developing policies for different states appeared to be paramount. Naturally, those who support the bill hope it will spread, thus creating a uniform law that will remove the need to monitor the internet on a state-by-state basis.

At present, major social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine already allow users of any age to delete their posts, photos and comments. California’s “eraser button” law requires that all websites with users in the state follow this policy from now on. And given the presence of Silicon Valley and the fact that California has one of the highest per capita usages of the internet in the country, other states are sure to follow.

facebook-privacyThe new law also prohibits youth-oriented websites or those that know they have users who are minors from advertising products that are illegal to underage kids, such as guns, alcohol and tobacco. Little wonder then why it was also supported by organizations like Children NOW, Crime Victims United, the Child Abuse Prevention Center and the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

In addition to being a legal precedent, this new law represents a culmination of special interests and concerns that have been growing in size and intensity since the internet was first unveiled. And given the recent rise in parental concerns over cyberbullying and teen suicides connected to online harassment, its hardly surprising that something of this nature was passed.

Sources: news.cnet.com, cbc.ca, huffingtonpost.com

11 thoughts on “A Kinder, Gentler Internet: California’s “Erase Button”

  1. I find it interesting that schools are now checking Facebook profiles of perspective students. Places of employment often do that as well. And why not? Is this not how you learn about the real person you are dealing with?
    What is more disturbing though is the fact that apparently the parents don’t knwow hat their kids are doing online. I know that we can not totally monitor our children’s online behavior, but things like Facebook? We can friend our kids, right? And if you are so out of the loop that you have no clue as to what your child is doing online, then this is the bigger issue, yes?
    My 12 year old has not had computer priveleges for more than a year. None. Not because she was “misbehaving” online but because she was using the computer without permission. The internet can be as potentially harmful as leaving the home, especially in reference to children. I think the law is a good step.

    1. Exactly! The global village is just like the world at large, filled with spammers, schemers, liars, predators and human traffickers. I worry myself all the time about how kids are so influenced and inundated with new media. They need a solid education to deal with what can come of it, but that generally doesn’t get covered until high school. And the exposure is likely to effect the current generation as soon as they are old enough to walk and talk and can (just barely) read.

      At the risk of shamelessly promoting myself, I did a story about this for April A to Z 2013. It was called Repute, and takes place in a world where someone’s online personality is sized up using advanced algorithms to give them a “reputation index”.

  2. It’s a start alright. A start to further censorship and control. I fail to see why a tool to access the world (much like the front door) needs to be monitored by a law and not parental guidance. I applaud khaalidah’s efforts to keep her child safe, and I wonder why other parents can’t accept that same level of responsibility? I believe in the ‘one village’ ideology, however I do not believe in censorship of material when realistically that village begins behind closed doors in private homes. I fully believe it is the responsibility of the parent to educate their children about the dangers of the internet much as it is their responsibility to teach them that walking out the door and into the street is a bad idea. I don’t believe my town needs to pass a law enforcing that door manufacturers take measures to insure this will never happen. So why does the responsibility fall to (essentially) internet vendors to ensure their product? Protection, education, and experiential awareness for our children must begin, and ultimately end, in the home environment. Censorship, like all things, only leads to more censorship which will ultimately lead to abuse of the power that comes with it. I have to disagree with this one, guys, and wonder once it begins, where does it end.

    1. I agree with you that education on this subject begins at home and is necessary. And like Rami said, its something that should be done sooner, since this sort of thing typically falls under media studies and that doesn’t happen until middle school at the earliest, whereas producers and advertisers target kids from the day they learn to walk and talk. But in reality, this isn’t censorship. Its regulation. And while I certainly agree that there are undeniable concerns and issues that regulating the internet raises, I don’t see this is a slippery slope kind of thing. I see it as more of band aid and an attempt at raising awareness, something which I hope will lead to a more thorough solution, such as education and public discourse.

      1. It’s one of those issues where we simply have to see where it goes… Just keep in mind, in my state you can no longer smoke in a bar or restaurant; public smoking is banned outside the establishment, on the side-walk, in the parking lot, or in the street (which leaves the smoker no where to go but home – I’m a non-smoker, btw, yet fully disagree with the absolute rigidity of the law). We also aren’t allowed to have trans-fats in our fast food; and finer eateries are fighting to keep a tag that says ‘(*this item has trans-fats)’ off their $34.95 gourmet hamburger on the menu.When will that hamburger no longer be allowed on the same menu? My point being, it becomes too easy to take things too far and relieve the individual of their responsibility to act/choose appropriately because now the law has dictated it. This is what I fear; this is a society I do not wish to live in. The free internet is for one purpose, to disseminate information freely and indiscriminately. Has there been a pollution factor since the days it was opened to more than educational institutes and government access? Absolutely. But I still firmly believe that between parental responsibility, and vendors such as Net Nanny, the internet should remain the mostly unpoliced entity that it is. If you choose to police your internet with software or judgement, more power to ya, just don’t choose (by law) to police mine. That’s the crux of it for me. Quiet, private policing measures have been in place since it was made available to educational institutes, not to mention the public at large, and with a measure of common sense, they have worked fairly efficiently as a whole. This is neither private nor quiet, this is public and (in my opinion) will encourage further ‘necessary’ action that, if not properly checked, could lead us down that slippery slope of more can’ts than can-do’s.

        And BTW – where did the Revengers go?

      2. Yes, it may very well be a slippery slope, or another step into a perfect, politically-correct future. Or it may be a way to foster a wider debate on what we are doing about internet safety and cyberbullying. Personally, I am hoping for the latter, because anything that could lead to a Demolition Man type future is appalling. That movie… really didn’t do it for me!

        As for the Revengers, I’m working on the next chapter. Its likely to be big, but I’ve been so preoccupied with other things. Needless to say, your Captain is still in custody. So I’m guessing you’re worried, yes?

      3. I very much hope this issue is a step in the right direction, though I think history has shown us that humans in general tend not learn from their mistreatment of power. And those of us who do end up getting bit in the butt in the end (no pun intended – funny as I like to be).

        Revengers: I’ve been worried sick (read: seething with anger and a clear intent to maim those responsible) over the whereabouts and treatment of my Captain! For all I know, they could have your (ahems) hooked up to a car battery with a slow trickle of icy water running down your back!!! Securing our Cap is concern numero uno; finishing the greater scale of the mission, and finding out what really went down is a somewhat close second. Not only is Global security at stake, but a little comeuppance is do the Cap’s captors!

        [If I could draw a straight line, I’d so be doing graphic novels by now!! lol]

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