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Could a Web 'Eraser Button' for Teens Actually Work?

California bill orders websites to create an 'eraser button'
Photograph by Getty Images/Fuse

California signed a new bill into law this week under Governor Jerry Brown requiring Web sites to provide an "eraser button" option for teens. Essentially, it's a whoopsie button for anyone under the age of 18 who has posted something inappropriate or hateful on a site, and thought twice about it later.

In many ways, it's the first big step in the quest to combat our rampant national problem with bullying, sexual exploitation, and other regrettable online behavior that happens when you put teens and technology together.

As Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, told The Huffington Post: "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 lives. This bill is a big step forward for privacy rights, especially since California has more tech companies than any other state."

Hmm ... this may be true. But there seems to be one little hiccup in the whole thing: like a basic misunderstanding of how the Internet works.

For starters, a deleted post is never really gone—it's still stored on a Web site's server. And since the law is state-mandated, but technically applies to the entire Internet, it can really only be enforced on Web sites that have servers based in California. Arguably, there are a ton of those to go around, but still; for any Web sites based outside the state of California, there's really nothing that can be done. Unless, of course, Web sites develop different policies for different states.

Thankfully, though, social sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter already allow users to erase their posts. And that's pretty huge, since those sites in particular are often perused by college admissions. According to a 2012 Kaplan survey, about a fourth of counselors scoped out the social accounts of prospective applicants—and 35 percent found things that were not exactly glowing. (Think: lots of underage drinking on display in photos, posts littered with F-bombs and other colorful language and "illegal activities" out in clear view—assume what you will there.)

Though it was just signed into law, the bill won't actually be put into action for a while—it's set to take effect by January 1, 2015. Until then, Web sites have to figure out how they'll comply.

What do you think about the new law?

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