Aug 16, 2023 - News

Arkansas judge considers blocking social media law before Sept. 1

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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A federal judge said Tuesday he will decide whether to temporarily block Arkansas' new social media age verification law by the end of the month.

Driving the news: NetChoice, a group representing social media companies, is challenging the measure, which is set to take effect Sept. 1.

The big picture: Similar laws that require social media companies to use a third party verifying new users are age 18 or older when they create accounts also have been passed in Utah, California and Texas; Louisiana requires minors to be 16 to create such accounts.

  • Arkansas' is set to be the first to take effect, potentially setting a precedent for minors' First Amendment rights.

State of play: Supporters say the law will help protect children from online predators who use social media to target victims and also from the potentially harmful effects of some content.

  • Opponents say the law raises privacy, free speech and enforceability concerns, while discriminating against the largest social media companies.

The latest: U.S. Western District of Arkansas Judge Timothy Brooks heard expert testimony from Tony Allen, CEO of Age Checked Certification Scheme of the United Kingdom.

Quick take: Allen was a witness for the defense, but much of what he said also supported the plaintiffs:

  • After consent is granted for a minor to create an account, Allen hasn't seen an effective system for a social media or verification company to keep track of the "permission slip."
  • It's easy to confirm the age of a person who is granting consent to a minor, but it's much harder to confirm they're the minor's guardian.
  • Parental controls already exist on most social media platforms and on devices.
  • Costs will vary, but one analysis by the U.K. government estimates that each age verification check will cost social media companies about 12 cents.

Arkansas' law is a "check at the gate" and doesn't address what content minors view once they've been confirmed for an account, Allen said.

Threat level: The law does not impact social media companies making less than $100 million in annual gross revenue, so smaller sites won't have to comply.

  • Those sites include controversial Kik and FetLife, or potentially polarizing sites like Parler and Truth Social.
  • It's not clear if direct-messaging apps like SnapChat would require parental consent.

The intrigue: Earlier this year, lawmakers loosened the state's child labor law. Teens under age 16 no longer need a work permit through the Department of Labor and Licensing before they can start a job.

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