Arkansas House agrees to social media age verification requirement

An attempt to require parental consent to access social media sites for Arkansas children is progressing through the state legislature


ANDREW DeMILLO Associated Press

Apr 5, 2023 8:19pm ET

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas children need their parents’ OK to access social media sites, according to a bill the Arkansas lawmakers tabled Wednesday that brings the state closer to being second to restrictions which critics say raises privacy and enforcement concerns.

The majority Republican House approved the restrictions by an 82-10 vote, which was supported by GOP Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The proposal goes back to the Senate, which approved an earlier version of the bill, for another vote before heading to Sanders’ desk.

“It’s a bill that aims to create some level of protection for our young people,” said Republican Representative Jon Eubanks, the House supporter, before representatives approved the measure without any debate.

The proposal is similar to a first-in-the-nation law that Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed into law last month. Several other states are considering similar measures, which supporters have touted as a way to protect children.

Sanders last month announced her support for Arkansas law that would require age verification and parental consent for users under the age of 18. The measure would require social media companies to contract with a third party for age verification.

The proposals come as parents and lawmakers are increasingly concerned about children’s and young people’s use of social media and how platforms impact young people’s mental health.

“That’s just common sense. An unwise moment online can mean a lifetime of pain offline,” Sanders said at a news conference announcing the legislation. “Kids aren’t prepared for that kind of responsibility, and they’re certainly not prepared for the world of dangerous content that big tech companies are willing to make available.”

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The restrictions would only apply to social media platforms that generate more than $100 million in annual revenue. If Sanders signs the measure, it would go into effect in September.

Opponents of such restrictions have said the measures raise privacy concerns, noting that every user would need to verify their age.

“People in Arkansas shouldn’t have to give up their driver’s license just to access free websites,” Jason Kelley of the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a statement. “By forcing people to do so, the law essentially blocks people in the state from accessing large parts of the internet unless the government approves it.”

Critics have also questioned whether the legislation could have unintended consequences, particularly for youth already facing a mental health crisis.

“There are far better ways to address this issue than by enacting mandatory collection of sensitive personal information that could unintentionally limit access to online communities that provide health and educational resources and increase opportunities for fraudulent actors who are sensitive Soliciting data from consumers.” Ruthie Barko, executive director for the central US at TechNet, a group of technology CEOs and senior executives, said in a statement.