An Arkansas law designed to protect minors from potential online dangers by requiring age verification for social media usage has been temporarily stalled. U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks granted a preliminary injunction against the Social Media Safety Act, which would have imposed age verification requirements on platforms like Facebook, TikTok and X (formerly known as Twitter). The ruling raises questions about the balance between safeguarding the young and protecting free speech and privacy.
The bill was initially signed into law by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) in April. It was set to go into effect on September 1. Under this law, social media companies generating over $100 million in annual revenue would face a fine of $2,500 per violation for not verifying the age of new users. Moreover, these platforms couldn’t store users’ personal identification information.
Gov. @SarahHuckabee: “Big Tech companies put our kids’ lives at risk. They push an addictive product that is shown to increase depression, loneliness, and anxiety and puts our kids in human traffickers’ crosshairs. Today’s court decision delaying this needed protection is… https://t.co/HbAKKj5IAT
— alexa henning (@alexahenning) September 1, 2023
According to the bill’s lead sponsor, Arkansas State Sen. Tyler Dees (R), “Today the problem is one-third of all crimes from an online situation are stemming from a social media interaction.” The law aimed to act as a deterrent for such occurrences and to limit the accessibility of minors to certain platforms.
On the other side, NetChoice, an industry trade group representing the tech giants, argued that the law infringes on the First Amendment rights of Arkansans. Chris Marchese, director of the NetChoice Litigation Center, stated, “We’re pleased the court sided with the First Amendment and stopped Arkansas’ unconstitutional law from censoring free speech online and undermining the privacy of Arkansans.”
While granting the injunction, Judge Brooks stated that the law “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.”
Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin expressed disappointment in the ruling but has not yet confirmed if an appeal will be launched.
Other states are also exploring similar legislation, making the Arkansas case a potential bellwether. Utah has already signed a similar law scheduled to go into effect in 2024. Georgia Republicans announced a legislative push for parental social media consent law, aiming to make platforms take concrete steps to verify the age of their users in the state’s 2024 legislative session.
The temporary blocking of the Arkansas law is a setback for those advocating for greater regulation of social media to protect minors. However, the ruling also serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the need for carefully crafted legislation that can withstand constitutional scrutiny while effectively protecting our children. It’s clear that as we tread the fine line between protection and liberty, lawmakers must come up with effective, fair, and constitutionally sound solutions.
Here is an April report at the time Gov. Sanders signed the law: