Judge blocks Arkansas law requiring parental OK for minors to create social media accounts

by Joshua Brown
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social media regulation

A federal judge has issued a temporary injunction on Thursday to prevent the enforcement of a recently passed Arkansas law. This law would have mandated parental consent for minors wishing to establish new social media accounts, thereby making Arkansas the first state to impose such a regulation.

U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks granted a preliminary injunction in response to a request made by NetChoice, a trade group representing various tech industry giants including TikTok, Facebook’s Meta, and X (formerly known as Twitter). This injunction halts the implementation of the law that was signed by Republican Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders in April, which was initially slated to take effect on the following day.

The Arkansas law bears resemblance to a pioneering measure enacted in Utah earlier this year. However, the Utah law will not be in force until March 2024. Last year, NetChoice filed a lawsuit challenging a California law that obligates tech companies to prioritize the safety of children by prohibiting the profiling of minors or the utilization of their personal information in ways that could cause them physical or mental harm.

In a comprehensive 50-page ruling, Judge Brooks opined that NetChoice’s challenge against the constitutionality of the Arkansas law was likely to succeed. He also raised doubts about the efficacy of the proposed restrictions, stating, “Age-gating social media platforms for adults and minors does not appear to be an effective approach when, in reality, it is the content on particular platforms that is driving the state’s true concerns.” Judge Brooks, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, expressed his reservations about the law’s practicality.

Comparable laws that impose limitations on minors’ access to social media have been enacted in Texas and Louisiana, but these are not set to be enforced until the following year. Prominent Republicans in Georgia have indicated their intention to advocate for a parental consent law in the next legislative session, and similar legislation has been proposed by some members of Congress.

NetChoice argued that the requirement of parental consent infringes upon users’ constitutional rights and unfairly targets specific forms of speech for restriction. Chris Marchese, director of the NetChoice Litigation Center, conveyed his satisfaction with the court’s decision, emphasizing the protection of First Amendment rights and online privacy.

On the other hand, Republican Attorney General Tim Griffin expressed disappointment with Judge Brooks’ ruling. Griffin affirmed his commitment to defending the law and safeguarding the welfare of children, an aspect highlighted in the federal judge’s order.

The Arkansas law would have been applicable solely to social media platforms generating over $100 million in annual revenue. It would not have been extended to certain platforms such as LinkedIn, Google, and YouTube.

This move to regulate minors’ social media usage is rooted in concerns over the impact of these platforms on the mental health of teenagers. These concerns were highlighted by Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders as she advocated for the legislation.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has cautioned that there is insufficient evidence to establish the safety of social media for children and adolescents. He has called upon tech companies to take swift measures to protect young users. Meta, for example, announced the introduction of enhanced parental supervision tools and privacy features to its platforms in June.

The Arkansas law stipulated a penalty of $2,500 for each violation of the age verification requirement by social media companies. Additionally, the law prohibited these companies and third-party vendors from retaining users’ identifying information once access to the social media platform was granted. However, these provisions have been suspended due to the injunction issued by Judge Brooks.

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