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DATE 2023-09-01

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MESSAGE
DATE 2023-09-03
FROM Ruben Safir
SUBJECT Subject: [Hangout - NYLXS] Minors and Social Media under the law.
Arkansas Social Media Parental-Consent Law Blocked Just Before Going
Into Effect
Arkansas would have been the first U.S. state to enforce age
verification on social media
By
Ginger Adams Otis
Follow
Updated Sept. 1, 2023 3:20 pm ET





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Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed the bill in April 2023.
PHOTO: THOMAS METTHE/ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
A federal judge temporarily blocked an Arkansas law that would have
required age verification for social-media users and parental consent
for minors’ accounts.

The preliminary injunction was granted after NetChoice, a tech-industry
trade association whose members include Facebook parent Meta Platforms,
TikTok and Snap, sued to stop the law in June.

Lawmakers in the U.S. and Europe have been trying to tighten online age
restrictions because of concerns that social-media companies don’t
effectively limit children’s activity. Arkansas would have been the
first U.S. state to enforce age verification on social media. Utah and
Louisiana passed similar laws earlier this year that won’t go into
effect until 2024.

Arkansas’s law, known as Arkansas Act 689, was signed in April by
Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and would have taken effect Friday.

In his 50-page ruling, Judge Timothy Brooks of the U.S. District Court
for the Western District of Arkansas said NetChoice’s arguments “are
likely to succeed on the merits.”

Act 689 would require all new social-media users in Arkansas to prove
their age by uploading identification to a third-party vendor contracted
by the platform. Verified adults would then be able to open a
social-media account. Minors would be prohibited from accessing
social-media platforms unless a parent who can prove their identity, age
and relationship to the minor gives consent.

The trade group argued that Act 689 was unconstitutionally vague because
it didn’t make clear which social-media companies and platforms would
fall within its purview. It said the law would place an undue burden on
adults’ access to protected speech as well as on minors’ access,
violating Arkansans’ First Amendment rights.

“Act 689 is not targeted to address the harms it has identified,” Brooks
wrote.

“Age-gating social media platforms for adults and minors does not appear
to be an effective approach when, in reality, it is the content on
particular platforms that is driving the state’s true concerns,” his
ruling said.

The state said the law’s intent was to protect minors from harms
associated with the use of social-media platforms. The U.S. surgeon
general issued a warning in May about the potential risks of social
media to young people.

In its legal challenge, NetChoice didn’t dispute the risks that social
media can pose to minors’ physical and mental well-being. However, the
Arkansas law as written didn’t provide a constitutional way to address
the dangers that minors face online, according to the organization.

“We look forward to seeing the law struck down permanently,” said Chris
Marchese, director of the NetChoice Litigation Center.

Meta declined to comment. TikTok and Snap did not immediately respond to
requests for comment.

Social-media companies have expressed concerns about age-verification
laws. They’ve cited privacy concerns for users who will have to upload
documentation, such as driver’s licenses and other government-issued
identification, to be verified.

The companies say they take measures to bar children under 13 in the
U.S. and have protections including limited ad tracking and content
restrictions for users under 18 years old.

Arkansas’s restrictions would have applied to social-media platforms
that generate more than $100 million in annual revenue, exempting some
smaller platforms. The judge said in his decision that YouTube, the
video-sharing giant owned by Google, would also not have been required
to verify the age of account holders, because the law exempts any
company that derives less than 25% of its revenue from a social-media
platform and offers cloud-storage services. Google, a subsidiary of
Alphabet, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

A representative for Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin, who is a
named defendant in the case because his office would enforce Act 689,
declined to comment on the YouTube exemption.

In a statement, Griffin said he was disappointed in the judge’s decision.

“I will continue to vigorously defend the law and protect our children,
an important interest recognized in the federal judge’s order today,” he
said.

Sanders shared her reaction to the ruling on social media.

“Big Tech companies put our kids’ lives at risk,” the governor said in a
statement on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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Write to Ginger Adams Otis at Ginger.AdamsOtis-at-wsj.com

Copyright ©2023 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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