Arkansas Governor Urged To Veto Bill Restricting Teens From Social Media

The tech industry group NetChoice is urging Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders to veto a bill that would require social media platforms to ban minors under 18, unless the platforms obtain parental consent. 

The Social Media Safety Act, passed last week by state lawmakers, would also require social-media companies to verify all users' ages.

The bill “risks subjecting every social media user in Arkansas to intrusive age verification requirements that would compromise the ability to speak freely and anonymously online,” NetChoice vice president and counsel Carl Szabo said in a letter sent Monday to Sanders.

“Furthermore,” Szabo adds, “by restricting minors’ access to non-obscene, legally protected speech, the bill raises serious First Amendment concerns.”

If enacted, the bill's restrictions would apply to most social media platforms that are controlled by companies with more than $100 million in annual revenue.

NetChoice argues the proposed law is unconstitutional for several reasons, including that the Supreme Court has ruled that minors have a First Amendment right to access lawful speech. The group notes that in 2011, the Supreme Court issued a 7-2 decision striking down a California law that would have banned the sale of violent video games to minors without parental consent.

The organization adds that Arkansas can't prove that social media use causes emotional problems for teens.

“While lawmakers would likely cite psychological studies allegedly establishing a link between social media use and mental health problems in minors, studies also show the opposite is true too: social media and internet use benefits a majority of teens,” the group writes, citing to a 2018 Pew Research Center report. Most teens questioned for that report said social media helps them feel connected to friends.

NetChoice adds that the bill violates adults' right to access speech anonymously.

“Mandatory age verification prevents anonymous or pseudonymous browsing -- something that’s critical for political minorities to share speech,” the letter says. “Verification also discourages people from sharing criticism, such as negative consumer reviews, or whistleblowing about wrongful conduct.”

If signed by Sanders, the bill will take effect in September.

Utah's governor signed a similar bill last month. That measure is slated to take effect next March, unless blocked by the courts.

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