Mississippi Social Media Law Faces First Amendment Challenge

The tech industry group NetChoice is suing to block a new Mississippi law that requires “digital services” providers, including social media platforms, to verify all users' ages, and prohibits minors from creating social media accounts, without parental permission.

The Mississippi law also requires social platforms to “prevent or mitigate” minors' exposure to “harmful material” -- defined as including material that promotes or facilitates eating disorders, substance abuse, sexual abuse and online bullying.

The measure violates the First Amendment rights of minors as well as adults for numerous reasons -- including that provisions regarding content amount to unconstitutional governmental censorship -- NetChoice says in a complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

“In short, the act requires covered websites to monitor and censor speech, much of which is protected by the First Amendment, potentially even including Romeo and Juliet and The Bell Jar,” NetChoice writes.



The group adds that whether particular material will be considered harmful “will often be open to debate, because the meaning conveyed by the speech at issue can depend on context, nuance, and the subjective understanding of users.”

NetChoice also notes that other laws requiring online companies to verify users' ages have been struck down in court.

The Mississippi law applies to websites that allow users to create profiles and socially interact, but with exemptions for employment related sites and sites that “primarily” offer news, sports, commerce, online video games and content curated by the service provider.

Mississippi is just one of several states to attempt to regulate Facebook, Instagram and other social platforms.

Lawmakers in Arkansas, Utah, Ohio, California and New York have also recently passed measures that would restrict how social media services serve content to minors. (The New York bill, passed last week, still awaits Governor Kathy Hochul's signature.)

NetChoice previously obtained injunctions prohibiting enforcement of the laws in Arkansas, Ohio and California.

Mississippi's law will take effect July 1, unless blocked in court.

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