Arkansas Passes Bill Banning Minors From Social Media Without Parents' Consent

Arkansas on Thursday joined Utah in passing legislation that would ban minors under 18 from most large social media platforms, without parental consent.

The bill also would explicitly require social media platforms to verify all users ages. 

The restrictions would apply to most social media platforms that are controlled by companies with more than $100 million in annual revenue, but a last-minute amendment appears to exempt Google, according to Ari Cohn, a First Amendment lawyer with the think tank TechFreedom. That amendment exempts companies that offer educational “enterprise collaboration tools” for kindergarten through grade 12, and that derive less than 25% of total company revenue from operating a social platform.

Cohn says the lawmakers' intent “might have been to make sure that educational services aren't impacted,” but that the provision's wording appears to also exclude YouTube from the definition of social media companies.

Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a vocal critic of Meta Platforms and TikTok, is expected to sign the measure. If so, it will take effect September 1, unless blocked by the courts.

Critics say the Arkansas bill, like the one in Utah, violates the First Amendment.

TechFreedom and law professors previously noted in a letter to Utah Governor Spencer Cox that the Supreme Court ruled as recently as 2011 that minors have First Amendment rights to access non-obscene material. In that matter, the court struck down a California law that banned the sale of violent video games to minors, without parental consent.

Laws requiring age verification to access media also run afoul of the First Amendment, given that age verification procedures effectively abolish online anonymity, critics say.

Earlier this week, the industry-funded think tank Chamber of Progress urged Arkansas lawmakers to reject the bill.

"While we support the author’s intention to protect children from potential harm online, the bill would sacrifice all users’ privacy and effectively ban a tool used by many teens to learn about their world, strengthen their social connections, and forge deeper ties to their communities," that group wrote in a letter to members of the Arkansas House.

Both the Utah bill and Arkansas bill are expected to be challenged in court.

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