Mississippi Asks Court To Uphold Restrictions On Social Media

A new Mississippi law that prohibits minors from creating social media accounts without parental permission is justified by the need to protect young people from the “dark side” of the web.

That's according to Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who is opposing the tech industry's request to block enforcement of the new statute.

“The Internet has a dark side,” Fitch writes in papers filed Tuesday with U.S. District Court Judge Halil Ozerden in the Southern District of Mississippi. “It provides a ready forum for an astonishing array of harmful conduct -- particularly conduct that inflicts concrete, life-altering, and at times life-ending harms on children.”

Fitch adds that the new law, slated to take effect July 1, “makes it harder for predators to gain access to minors and prey on them online by making it harder for minors to participate in online platforms that are dangerous.”



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

NetChoice claimed in a lawsuit filed earlier this month that the law violates the First Amendment for numerous reasons, including that it amounts to unconstitutional governmental censorship.

“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 wrote in its petition.

Fitch counters that NetChoice is misinterpreting the law.

The measure “calls for a strategy to address material that 'promotes' or 'facilitates' listed harm,” Fitch writes, adding that no “reasonable person” would interpret that provision in a way that requires companies to block a post that “merely discusses, addresses, or depicts” eating disorders, drug abuse, violence and other harms set out in the statute.

NetChoice also argued that the parental consent provision violates teens' right to access content.

In 2011, the Supreme Court struck down a California law that banned the sale of violent video games to minors, without parental consent.

“No doubt a State possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm ... but that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority in that case.

Mississippi isn't alone in attempting to regulate teens' use of social media. 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.

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

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