California State Senator Ellen Corbett has introduced a bill, SB 242, that would both change social network’s default privacy settings, and give parents the legal power to demand that sites take down content from their children’s social network account. Facebook isn’t specifically mentioned in the draft bill, but it is pretty safe to say that with over 500 million active users, it was definitely on the minds of those creating it.
One impact the bill would have is that default privacy settings would only show a user’s name and hometown. Contrast this with existing default privacy settings that allow everyone to see a user’s photos, personal information, and posts. The bill, if enacted into law, would mean users would have to make a conscious choice to be more open with their social networking posts, rather than making a conscious choice to be more private.
A controversial part of the bill is where it gives parents the legal right to demand that social networking sites take down postings from, or about, their child in a “timely manner”, which in this case, means 48 hours. The punishment for a social networking site like Facebook if they cannot or will not remove the requested posts within 2 days? A $10,000 fine for each violation. SB 242 could end up being very costly for social networks like Facebook, in terms of both fines, and staffing needed to handle the tidal wave of requests they are likely to get. As you can expect, Facebook is not a big fan of the proposed legislation.
It is great to see that there are people concerned about their children on Facebook. Parent’s concern for their children’s over-sharing, which could lead to reputation damage and potential dangers such as online predators, is definitely legitimate. But logistics and potential legal concerns of the venture aside, allowing parents to force social networks like Facebook to take down their children’s posts is not on its own a sustainable solution. Education, however, can successfully address these concerns rather than policing alone. If a kid makes a post on Facebook that isn’t wise or safe, and the parent makes Facebook take it down, then the kid just learns that their parents don’t like some of the posts they make. There needs to be some kind of communication between the parent and the child about why it is not a good idea to post certain things. The spirit of the proposed bill SB 242—being that parents are concerned about their children’s safety online, and want tools to assist them in helping their children—is right on track. Having kids know that their parents can remove postings they make within 48 hours of their demand to Facebook might not be the way to go about it though. If you only censor your children’s social networking posts, you will keep them safe for the immediate time being. If you teach them to use social networks responsibly, they will be able to stay smart and safe online for a lifetime.