The New Jersey State Senate passed a bill this week mandating that schools teach middle school children responsible use of social media to avoid disclosure of personal information, bullying, and inappropriate sexual content production.
According to NJ.com, the bill’s principle target is cyber-bullying, and the assembly passed their version of the bill in May. (The two still have to be reconciled, and the final product put to a vote.) Both bills would make social media a key part of the state’s schools’ core curriculum. The bill would affect sixth through eighth grade education, and the NY Daily News asserts it will be “almost certain[ly]” law by the 2014-2015 school year.
The content of these social media courses is still a matter of contention. The bill (which you can read here) provides some guidelines, but nothing concrete. It includes teaching: “(1) the purpose and acceptable use of various social media platforms; (2) social media behavior that ensures cyber safety, cyber security, and cyber ethics; and (3) potential negative consequences.”
If the bill passes, it would fall to the state’s commissioner of education to develop a course structure for students and find examples of good and bad use of social media for them to follow.
The Star-Ledger has endorsed the bill in an editorial and contrasted it to previous attempts to target the problem as something “doable” for the state.
The New Jersey Legislature has been very proactive in attempting to use the law to curb social media misuse by minors. Last November, State Sen. Shirley Turner proposed a bill that would have given minors a right to delete any embarrassing materials in social media or on the internet generally, placing the onus on proprietors of websites to have the ability to delete anything that someone posted as a teenager that might be embarrassing or prevent him from finding work. That bill was deemed by legal experts to be somewhat of a “mess,” as it required tracking down numerous website owners and gave far too much editorial choice to those who would want their postings removed.
As for adults, the NJ Senate passed a law last year that further protects the privacy rights of adults on social media. That law prevents employers from demanding prospective employees divulge their social media passwords during interviews to check their profiles before hiring them. New Jersey has also protected the right of social media services to ban sex offenders from using them.