A digital eraser for under-18s to delete unfortunate online postings? I want one of those

Today’s youth have laid their lives bare, ready to view at the click of a mouse. They need saving from themselves

Grace Dent
Thursday 26 September 2013 07:51 BST

It’s a rare thing for me to envy the young having experienced youth – and it was mainly a beastly business, awash with unwise crushes, bad hair and too much time in Top Shop. However this week a new Californian law coming into force in 2015 and focusing on internet regulation acknowledges the folly and fickleness of youth and offers kids a boost we never had: the digital eraser.

As we cajole our kids to document every moment online, it’s only fair, the bill suggests that we make Fac ebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and other such services offer young adults a fresh start. The measure requires websites to give underage users tools to permanently delete text, photo and video postings from sites. A Year Zero-style clean-out upon reaching the age of 18. A permanent removal of internet brainfarts made in haste, a chance to repent at leisure. Ah, the eternal sunshine of the spotless internet history.

If only I could have rounded up my past in binliner at 18 and set it alight. All those love letters, declaring undying love now sitting in the lofts of boys I can’t remember the names of, the missing diaries, the angry letters sent to the NME, some petulant letters sent to Mars Inc. about the Marathon to Snickers name change. How lovely if aged 18, following a short button pressing ceremony I was officially no longer a twerp. That said, gathering evidence of my youthful idiocy would take the sort of crowd of earnest, virginal archivers that Who Do You Think You Are? employ. Today’s youth have laid their lives bare, ready to view at the click of a mouse, and without doubt, have now become bolder, braver and more showmanlike for an ever-ready audience. To my mind, they need saving from themselves.

Those tweets threatening to disembowel Harry Styles’s new girlfriend – gone. That rash of slightly alarming far-right or communist babblings on Facebook during some bored, overly hormonal weekend in 2009: deep-cleaned – vamooshed. That weekend in 2008 when it seemed a fantastic idea to call for jihad or launch one’s rap career with some songs glorifying rape. Those sickies from Saturday jobs lovingly documented simply removed from all future employers’ sight.

During the London riots I was tormented online by a young lad sending the usual filth with the added bonus of telling me he knew where I lived. A bit of fishing not only brought up his address, his full name and his date of birth, but his sixth-form project on electricity pylons, and a number of earnest letters written to local papers on the matter. I often think of this seemingly normal, erudite young man, who on his worst days left an internet footprint of hideous messages to me, and on better days documented himself as a pylon obsessive.

We need to either give young people the chance to start again, or thwart their chance to prosper. This is a curiously touching and empathetic bill which treads all over the feet of the powerful, and may never spread further than California, however, Google’s Eric Schmidt, voiced his concern that some young people now had to live with the consequences of having a complete record of their past. “We have never had a generation with a full photographic, digital record of what they did,” he said, before adding: “Society has always had ways of dealing with errant teenagers” by a natural process of punishment and being allowed to grow up away from their mistakes. “They grow up out of it and become fine, upstanding leaders.”

Of course, how well an internet eraser would wash away the past is debatable. Once a message is posted, and someone has grabbed it and stored it, the ball is out of your court. Once a message has entered the deep, dark world of internet storage, there is no “never to be seen again”. But I’ve been a young idiot, and now I’m an older, slightly lesser idiot, and the only way to let future generations grow and prosper is with kindness, with forgiveness, with empathy and by playing with the notion that on the web we all behave like we’re on stage. We must also believe in second acts.

Twitter: GraceDent

Chuka’s the Labour leader I’d vote for

I rushed to the television yesterday on hearing of Ed Miliband’s triumphant charismatic speech in Brighton which would assure me Labour were worth believing in – but I’ll have to call Sony about the warranty on my widescreen. It was still showing that uninspiring sop with the hair like Bart Simpson on a church day, gibbering on about freezing fuel bills.

I will never, not ever, vote for Ed Miliband. Up until around three years ago, Labour could have stuck a red rosette on a solid bronze cat from Chinatown with a waggly paw and I’d have put a tick against its name, humming “Things will only get better”.

Presently, to my mind, the only safe pair of hands capable of leadership or victory is the shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, who has only been an MP since 2010, yet manages to deliver slightly unappetising – and to many actually worrying – Labour policy with the raffish, no-nonsense boldness of an actual leader.

Umunna (pictured) appeared to assure us that when the prices on fuel are frozen, there will be no blackouts, strikes and civil unrest. I want to believe him. But if the lights do go out, God forbid that we’ll be waiting for some balm-like words from Ed Miliband.

Twerking receives royal approval

In a story reminiscent of Catherine The Great’s fondness for horses, our very own Princess Eugenie has been photographed “twerking” with a stuffed bear. For elderly readers, “twerking” is a contemporary social trend for expressing happiness in public via rubbing one’s clothed bottom against another human or, in this case stuffed bear, while draping your tongue from your mouth like an anaphylactic shock victim in an Accident and Emergency department. Sensual, subtle and, now, fit for a Princess.

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