California Gives Teens an Online "Eraser"

©suchoa lertadipat/getty images/thinkstock ©suchoa lertadipat/getty images/thinkstock

From Facebook to Twitter and everything in-between, teens are constantly sharing their lives online. And unfortunately, over-sharing is all too common. But California legislators are taking notice, and stepping up to protect teens from their online selves.

On Monday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that would allow minors to “erase” their online missteps. By 2015, every website and app must allow those under the age of 18 to remove their own data, or at least request that their data be removed.

This is undoubtedly a step forward for today’s teens and their online privacy, but it may not be as big of a step as it appears. While it’s true that teens will still be able to take down those “red solo cup” pictures from their profiles, websites won’t be required to scrub those photos, posts, or data from their internal servers. And though it may not bother your teen to have Taylor Swift lyrics they once tweeted rotting away in a Twitter database somewhere, it should bother them that this law doesn’t apply to posts that have been downloaded, archived, screenshot-ed, saved, sent, or posted by someone else. So if you post a #tbt of your teen in the tub as a baby, the law won’t protect their request to have it removed. And more frighteningly, if someone resurrects an embarrassing or less-than-flattering picture of your teen that they thought had been deleted, the law still sees that photo as the poster’s, and not your teen’s.

So what does this law actually accomplish? Well, not much. Most websites (especially the big names like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram… but pretty much all of them) already allow any user to take down their own content. And if you’ve been keeping up with Choices and TeenBeing, you and your teens should know by now that nothing you post online ever really disappears. So perhaps this well-intentioned law won’t do much to change the way content is deleted, but it does present the perfect opportunity to talk to your teens about what they’re posting online.

There’s a golden rule to follow when it comes to sharing online: If you wouldn’t want your parents, your teachers, or your employers to see it, then don’t put it online (because not much is stopping them from someday seeing it). Ask your teen to consider the reactions of their grandmother, their crush, or their coach before they put something online. And when in doubt, don’t post!

Do you think that this law will help teens stay professional online? How do you talk to your teens about what they share? Join the conversation in the comments below!