Tech Industry Sues To Block Ohio Social Media Law

The tech industry group NetChoice is suing to block an Ohio law that requires a wide swath of platforms -- including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Threads, X (formerly Twitter), and YouTube -- to obtain parental consent before allowing access to minors under 16.

In a federal complaint filed late last week in the Southern District of Ohio, NetChoice says the law violates the First Amendment for several reasons, including that it wrongly restricts minors' rights to express themselves and access others' speech, and only applies to certain social platforms.

The Social Media Operators Act, set to take effect next week, prohibits some but not all sites with social functionality from allowing minors to create accounts or access content, without parental permission. The law generally applies to operators of sites with social features (such as allowing people to create profiles and interact with each other) and are likely to be accessed by minors under 16, but specifically excludes ecommerce sites that allow people to post reviews, and “established and widely recognized” media outlets that report news.



“As the Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear, the government does not have 'a freefloating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed,'” NetChoice writes, quoting from a 2011 Supreme Court decision striking down a California law that banned the sale of violent video games to minors, without parental consent.

“The First Amendment problems are heightened here because the Act is unconstitutionally both content-based and speaker-based and baldly discriminates among online operators based on the type of speech they publish,” the group adds.

The organization also adds that the exemption for sites that report “news” discriminates against other types of content, including literature, art, history or religion.

“Thus, 15-year-olds must secure parental consent to join web forums devoted to United States history, but not to comment on contemporary news stories,” NetChoice writes.

The organization is seeking an injunction prohibiting enforcement and a declaratory judgment that the law is unconstitutional.

Ohio is one of several states -- including Arkansas, Utah, Texas and California -- to recently pass laws that could affect teens' use of the internet.

A federal judge in Arkansas recently blocked a state statute requiring social platforms to verify users' ages and prohibiting teens under 18 from having social media accounts without parental permission, while a different federal judge in California blocked a law that would have required online companies likely to be accessed by users under 18 to prioritize their “best interests” and “well-being.”

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