Will Michigan kids get to scrub their social media histories?

Sep 27, 2013

At the end of 2012 Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill into a law prohibiting employers and schools from asking for social media usernames and passwords. But, California, once again ahead of the legislation pack, has taken the social media and privacy debate another step forward with a new "eraser" law, SB-568. But some critics of the law think it's, at best, a sideways step that will do more to limit web companies than protect kids from past mistakes. 

Credit John Spencer / Education Rethink

Under the new law, minors would be able to request web companies remove their online activity. The law goes into effect in 2015, giving companies time to either amend existing policies around kids and privacy or figure out how they're going to effectively implement the new law in California.

However, critics suggest that a law in one state won't be useful. Only action at the federal level will offer the kinds of protections children might require from behaviors they've broadcast online.  Notably, the California law only applies to online activity posted by the minor requesting the takedown, but doesn't cover photos or other activities posted by third parties. In short, parents prone to disclosing their child's every adorable, but potentially embarrassing moment don't have to worry that their child can request a takedown of the family photo albums from Facebook.

Also not covered by the law are images that are produced and copied across the web. The online activity remains on website servers, leading many to question what is really means to delete anything in the Internet Age. As Slate's Katy Waldman asks, "Do services like Facebook or Twitter even have the reach to meddle in...independently owned digital libraries?"

“...if a post is taken down by the minor, there will be a record...This record can demonstrate that individual’s good intent in wanting the post/photo to be taken down..."

Actual outcomes of the law are yet to be seen, but privacy advocates hope that, at the very least, the option of considering whether something should be deleted from the web makes young people think. In an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, Professor Elizabeth Dowdell of Villanova University points out that even having the request for removal of activity documented might enable kids to demonstrate growth and maturity.

The process of coming to terms with posting potentially damning behavior may be the only benefit of this law since many social media outlets already have features that allow users to delete their own posts.