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What We Learn From a California Law About Teens

california law

Did you hear? California, a state that I lived in for over a decade, has passed a law that enables teens to force websites to delete their personal information. For example, an adolescent under the age of 18, can post something, and later realize it wasn’t very smart to make it public, and require the site to remove the comment or photo.

The law, which takes effect in 2015, only covers content, including photos, generated by an individual. Companies will not have to remove content posted or re-posted by others. Nor will they be required to remove data from their servers.

Obviously, this is good news for middle school and high school students. “Teens often ‘self-reveal’ before they ‘self-reflect’ and may post sensitive personal information about themselves—and about others—without realizing the consequences,” said James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media.

The vast majority of employers now check personal pages on Facebook before they hire a young employee. More often than not, those companies choose not to hire because of what they saw on the site. What were those kids thinking?  Uh, that’s just it. They weren’t thinking.  A Pew survey indicated 59% of U.S. youngsters with social media profiles had deleted or edited something they had posted, and one in five had posted comments, photos or updates they later regretted sharing.

The Good News and Bad News

We can learn something from this move. First, this will help save the reputations and perhaps jobs of many young people. But not everyone believes it is a good idea. U.S. think tank the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) is concerned websites will not understand what their legal obligations are.

My concern is—while it gives youth a chance to save their fanny, it doesn’t equip them to think first. In other words, if I can post questionable content without thinking first, knowing I can delete it later, I will continue my knee-jerk reactions and never learn to reflect, wait, and control my emotions. Further, one key issue this law doesn’t resolve is that as soon as a user posts anything on major social media sites, it is replicated across a multitude of servers and storage devices. A posting may not be publically visible if “deleted” but it’s still out there and can be retrieved. And it will be available indefinitely for analytics.

Four Words of Advice

So, the bottom line may still be the same as it always was: teens must eventually learn to delay gratification and think before they act.

1. Teens must always ask before posting: would I want an employer to see this? Would I mind if my parent or coach saw this? Is this really public information?

2. If a teen must brag about something, they should text it before they tweet it. That way, they can examine how it feels once it’s out there. This may help them curb their desire to broadcast it.

3. I always recommend teens check their motives. Ask yourself: why do you want to post this photo or comment? Is it really necessary? Does it damage anyone?

4. When in doubt, leave it out. If while posting, a teen wonders whether they’ll want to delete this later—it’s a pretty good sign it shouldn’t be posted in the first place.

Talk to me. What else would you add to this list?



  1. Jeff Miller on October 7, 2013 at 7:17 am

    I have mixed emotions about this….first, this law could be good for makes the kids realize that what they first say could have bad results and to make think before the speak…but the law will not let the teens go through the consequences of their decision to make bad comments and maybe not get that job they so wanted. We are making to easy for them to have outs of their poor decisions making and lack of judgement when the post something they knew was wrong.

    • Tim Elmore on October 7, 2013 at 11:00 am

      Thanks for sharing Jeff. I also have mixed emotions about this. It is great in one sense, that immature actions may not affect a future job opportunity. Yet, will they ever learn without the consequences of their actions? My hope is yes.

  2. BF on October 7, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    I always tell my kids, “If it’s something you can’t say in person, then you shouldn’t tweet or text it either.” I hope they will always remember this.

  3. Aaron Kirkpatrick on October 9, 2013 at 11:28 am

    The reality is that, thanks to social networks like KiK and Snapchat, the concept of “posting” has to be broadened to encompass a picture or chat that is only sent to one person. As I understand California’s law, if a person sends an embarrassing, compromising, or even just an unflattering picture to someone via a service like Snapchat and that person then posts it on Instagram or Tumblr, there’s not a thing the original sender can do about it.

    So I might add this to your list: “Always assume anything you post or send in digital form can and WILL be seen by more people than you originally sent it to.”

    • Tim Elmore on October 10, 2013 at 11:01 am

      Thanks for sharing Aaron. I couldn’t agree more with your advice to always assume anything you post or send has the potential to be seen by everyone and anyone.

  4. arpit goel on October 12, 2013 at 7:01 am

    Excellent article! While the law addresses the basic steps. Teenagers must reflect on the mistakes they do when they post something on the net.

    • Tim Elmore on October 14, 2013 at 1:07 pm

      So true, thanks for the comment!

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What We Learn From a California Law About Teens