- A federal judge has temporarily blocked an Arkansas law requiring parental consent for minors to create new social media accounts.
- The law, known as the Social Media Safety Act (SB396), was set to take effect on September 1.
- NetChoice, a tech industry trade group, filed the petition against the law, arguing it violates constitutional rights.
- The law proposed a $2,500 fine for each violation by social media companies that knowingly fail to verify the age of users.
- The ruling questioned the efficacy of the law and suggested that NetChoice is likely to succeed in proving the law unconstitutional.
Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Arkansas’ Pioneering Law on Parental Consent for Minors’ Social Media Accounts
A federal judge has temporarily halted an Arkansas law that would have mandated parental consent for minors to set up new social media accounts. The ruling came on Thursday, just a day before the law was slated to be enforced.
Judge Timothy Brooks of the U.S. District Court issued a preliminary injunction in response to a petition from NetChoice, a trade association representing tech giants like TikTok, Meta, and X, formerly known as Twitter. The law, known as the Social Media Safety Act (SB396), was signed by Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders in April and was set to take effect on September 1.
NetChoice contended that the law infringes upon constitutional rights, arguing that it would limit certain forms of speech. “We’re pleased the court sided with the First Amendment and stopped Arkansas’ unconstitutional law from censoring free speech online and undermining the privacy of Arkansans, their families and their businesses as our case proceeds,” said Chris Marchese, the director of NetChoice Litigation Center.
The halted legislation proposed a fine of $2,500 for each violation by social media companies that knowingly fail to verify the age of users. It also forbade social media platforms and third-party vendors from retaining users’ identification data after they access the site. The law was designed to apply only to platforms with an annual revenue exceeding $100 million and excluded certain platforms like LinkedIn, Google, and YouTube.
In his 50-page decision, Judge Brooks questioned the efficacy of the law, suggesting that NetChoice is likely to succeed in proving the law unconstitutional. “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,” Brooks wrote.
The ruling also noted that the law’s exemptions weaken the state’s rationale for the restrictions and that the law failed to clearly define which platforms would be subject to the rules.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy had earlier urged tech companies to act immediately to safeguard children, citing insufficient evidence to declare social media safe for young users. Governor Sanders had advocated for the law, citing concerns about the impact of social media on adolescent mental health.
Alex Henning, a spokesperson for Governor Sanders, expressed disappointment in the court’s decision. “Big Tech companies put our kids’ lives at risk. They push an addictive product that is shown to increase depression, loneliness, and anxiety and puts our kids in human traffickers’ crosshairs,” she stated.
Republican Attorney General Tim Griffin also expressed disappointment but vowed to “continue to vigorously defend the law and protect our children, an important interest recognized in the federal judge’s order today.”
The Arkansas law mirrors a similar law in Utah set to be enforced in March 2024. Other states like Texas and Louisiana have also passed laws addressing minors’ social media use, but these are not due to be implemented until next year.