Feb 13, 2023 - News

Ohio Lt. Gov. Husted wants to protect teens from social media harm

An illustration of young people checking their phone and their "likes" on social media

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted wants Ohio to start shielding teenagers from harmful online content.

Driving the news: He outlined a new proposal last week that would require social media and gaming platforms to receive parental consent for any user under 16 years old.

Why it matters: Social scientists have warned of a "substantial link" between social media usage and teen mental health issues.

  • Internet usage among teens has skyrocketed over the past decade, with nearly half saying they use the internet "almost constantly."

State of play: The minimum age for most social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and TikTok is 13, though kids easily surpass this rule by pretending to be older.

Threat level: Allowing users at that young of an age is a "disservice to many of those children," Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently opined.

The big picture: Public officials have long sought to keep younger teens off social media. As far back as 2007, dozens of states urged MySpace to raise its minimum user age to 16.

  • Legislators from Connecticut to Utah to Australia have pitched similar parental consent laws as Husted has, while U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) wants to go further by outlawing all social media usage for those under 16.

What they're saying: Husted sees this as a bipartisan issue rooted in protecting Ohio teens from inappropriate content, predatory adults and addictive algorithms.

  • "I come at this as a parent of teenagers," he tells Axios. "We've experienced those issues in our household where we've had to address them and take parental responsibility."
  • "If we want to help our kids, we've got to help parents have more control over one of the primary sources of the problem and that's social media."

Yes, but: The lieutenant governor acknowledges that enforcement would remain a challenge.

  • Those under 16 could simply still lie when asked to verify their age, or impersonate their consenting parents.
  • He says his hope is that platforms will partner with states like Ohio to figure out a proper way to enact these reforms.

What we're watching: If lawmakers choose to take up this issue amid biennial budget debates and an ongoing feud between House Republicans. Husted predicts they will.

  • "'It's about time somebody does something about this.' That's kind of the response I've had."

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