Helping Kids Delete Stupid Mistakes

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The governor of California recently signed a law giving teenagers some control over their online data trail:

While the youth of every other state struggle with the permanency of their virtual decisions, California will require web companies to expunge content at a minor’s request, starting in 2015. The bill leaves the mechanism for requests up to the individual companies. All that’s stipulated is that a removal option must be offered, that minors must be notified that removal is an option, and that clear instructions be given should a minor wish to make a request.

But the law has “significant limits“:

If someone else takes a photo of you, it’s not covered by the law. If you’re an adult looking to delete something you posted when you were a minor, you’re not covered. Most significantly, if an embarrassing photo is copied by someone else to another website, it ceases to be covered by the law. In fact, the law only covers media posted by a minor specifically to, for instance, Facebook or Twitter, and only while the poster is under 18.

Here’s a prediction: in the near future almost everyone in public life will have an embarrassing selfie – maybe even a Weiner – in his past. God knows I have (yep, an early adopter, as usual). We will just have to get used to it – and grow the fuck up. Laws like California’s seem like pissing into a hurricane to me. In fact, Ashley Feinberg calls the law “a testament to the fact that lawmakers (at least in California) have no real idea how the Internet actually works”:

Perhaps the most glaring aspect overlooked in the legislation is the status of server data. Though the post will, theoretically, be deleted from the page, there are no stipulations requiring deletion of the actual data on the servers. Servers that may or may not be in California – which brings us to problem number two. Presumably, this law wants to regulate all websites, even those not under California’s jurisdiction. Obviously, web sites with users in California won’t necessarily have their servers based in the state, and it’s highly unlikely that theses sites will comply with the restrictions. …

There’s also a little something that we like to call “screenshots.” And though the law is meant to combat bullying, this gives the bullies themselves an ephemeral outlet in which they can spew hate at their victim and promptly delete the evidence.

The above screenshot is featured on the tumblr “Selfies At Serious Places“:

The guy above wrote me this morning:

I’m one of the people on your tumblr blog, and I have to say you made me realize how much of an idiot I made myself look. I’ve had people messaging me and calling me stuff, all of which I obviously deserve. I know you probably think I’m just an idiot who is willing to put pictures like that on the internet, and you’re not too wrong. You’ve really made me think about it, and I’d like to thank you for that. Now I’m going to beg that you remove the picture, and I doubt you would, because you will gain absolutely no benefit from doing so, but from one severely regretful person to another person, please, do so. Sorry for being such a dick.

This was big of him, I thought, and no one photo—even a thumbs-up selfie at the Holocaust Memorial—defines a person. We agreed on the solution you see: a blocked-out face and blurred-out Twitter handle, and his apology.

A reporter recently asked me if I thought these selfie-takers defined a spoiled generation, and I replied that no, absolutely, they did not. There’s a lot of youthful stupidity on display here, but every prior generation would have embarrassed themselves publicly, were they equipped with the technology to do so. This Tumblr captures people in moments they haven’t fully thought through, but that doesn’t mean they’re incapable of thinking further.