Sep 19, 2023 - Technology

Conservative content bans move from classroom to web

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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A new report shared first with Axios finds that the same forces pushing book bans around the country are also pushing for more digital parental control legislation.

Why it matters: While the two movements appear to be separate issues, the report suggests they're connected through Republican lawmakers' efforts to prevent children from seeing content they've deemed objectionable.

Driving the news: Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee last week held a hearing to debate recent efforts by Republican lawmakers to ban public access to books in certain states.

  • Democrats sought to defend access to books, arguing that stopping students from reading   books about antisemitism or racism doesn't help them understand history or protect them from persistent forms of hat
  • Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) sought to make an example of the hearing by reading aloud risqué passages from public books with LGTBQ+ themes. Recordings of his reading went viral online.

What's happening: The hearing was a response to a slew of new measures introduced by Republican state lawmakers to curb children's access to certain content.

  • Texas Governor Greg Abbott approved a bill restricting access to sexual material deemed harmful to minors and requiring age verification for porn sites in June. Louisiana, Mississippi and Montana have similar laws.
  • Gov. Abbott also signed a law that requires parents to give permission for children to access library materials with sexual content.
  • Mississippi lawmakers passed a new law in April that limits minors from accessing ebooks via Libby and other library book apps without parental permission.

By the numbers: According to the new report from Chamber of Progress, a left-leaning tech advocacy group, Texas, Utah, Arkansas, and Louisiana are among the leaders in banning books and enacting curriculum censorship, accounting for 31% of censorship laws since last year and 40% of book bans in 2022.

Be smart: The crackdown on books aligns with a wider push by Republicans to limit conversations on hot-button issues like race, sexuality and the history of slavery in America.

  • In Texas, another law prevents teaching materials about race that could make students feel guilt. In Utah, another law bans instruction implying individuals can be inherently racist or sexist.

The big picture: At the same time as these moves, Republican lawmakers have also introduced measures to control children's access to social media sites online.

  • "Wrapped in the same specious justifications underlying calls for book bans, lawmakers are now seeking to control students' access to information online," the report's authors write.
  • They identify "deep ties between extremists fighting to ban information in school and those pushing for digital censorship legislation."

Zoom in: In March, Utah Governor Spencer Cox signed laws requiring social media companies to get parental consent for minors to use their platforms, the first state to do so in the U.S.

  • In April, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a law that requires minors to get parental permission to create a new social media account.

Yes, but: Some of these efforts are being shut down by Democrats raising concerns about the constitutionality of such laws.

  • In Virginia, the state senate voted down an effort by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin to require children under 18 to have parental approval to set up social media accounts as part of a bill that did pass, which requires sites that display adult content to check ages of people in Virginia.
  • A federal judge temporarily blocked the new Arkansas social media measure last month before it went into effect.

What to watch: Some blue states are introducing measures to protect children online, but those too are being challenged.

  • In California, a new age-appropriate design code that was passed unanimously in 2022 and subsequently signed into law was declared "likely unconstitutional" by a federal judge on Monday.

The bottom line: In red states, when there are book bans, online censorship or parental approval laws aren't far behind.

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