It is now illegal for anyone in Arkansas under 18 to be on social media without asking their parents, according to a new bill signed by the state’s governor on Wednesday.
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders enacted the Social Media Safety Act, also known as SB396, in the latest legislative push to restrict children and teens from using social media.
“A social media company shall not permit an Arkansas user who is a minor to be an account holder on the social media company's social media platform unless the minor has the express consent of a parent or legal guardian,” the bill states. “A social media company shall verify the age of an account holder. If an account holder is a minor, the social media company shall confirm that a minor has consent…to become a new account holder.”
The bill requires social media companies to verify the age of any new user who lives in Arkansas, by obtaining a “digitized identification card, including a digital copy of a driver's license…Government-issued identification; or any commercially reasonable age verification method.” Age verification must also be done through a third-party vendor, which is not to retain any identifying information of the individual after verifying their age.
If a social media company fails to do this, it will be subject to $2,500 fines per violation, and also pay for a family’s legal fees if the family decides to sue.
It’s not overtly clear how this bill will help, given that it is chock full of loopholes. The bill states that it does not apply to “news or public interest broadcast, website video, report, or event,” any news-gathering organizations, any cloud service providers, or internet service providers who provide links to social media platforms.
An amendment introduced in the final days of negotiating the bill stated that subscription service providers and gaming services were exempt, but that “Social media company that allows a user to generate short video clips of dancing, voice overs, or other acts of entertainment in which the primary purpose is not educational or informative, does not meet the exclusion under subdivision (7)(B)(i) of this section.”
The most affected social media company in question, then, would likely be TikTok, whose CEO was grilled by Congress for six hours last month about “protecting the children” and data privacy, and frequently accused of being an “extension of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party].”
This bill is the latest development in government officials trying to more strictly regulate what children and teens do on the internet, after coming to the realization that teens have been lying about their age on the internet since the dawn of the internet. Previously, age verification for certain social media platforms like Instagram and, back in the day, MySpace, involved clicking on a checkbox that affirms you are the required minimum age.
But now, in Arkansas—and also in Utah, which enacted a similar law a few weeks ago—it will be slightly more difficult to lie on the internet. Both of these bills also raise questions about infringing on the basic rights of younger users, who are often at the forefront of bills like these so that the government can look like it’s protecting the children.