New Arkansas social media age verification law could complicate student-athletes’ publicity efforts
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signs SB396, to create the Social Media Safety Act, on April 12, 2023, with bill sponsors, Rep. Jon Eubanks (left), R-Paris, and Sen. Tyler Dees, R-Siloam Springs. (Photo by Randall Lee/Governor’s Office)
Austyn Dendy, a junior student-athlete at Pine Bluff High School, has college offers from numerous universities, including Tulane, the University of Nevada Las Vegas and the University of Mississippi.
Recruiters discovered Dendy and other outstanding Arkansas athletes like him through his high school coaches’ networks but also on social media.
Dendy, who participates in football, basketball and track, has Twitter and Instagram accounts. On those, he posts his athletic information in his bio along with a link to his Hudl account. Hudl is a platform used by players, coaches, recruiters — anyone involved in high school and college sports — to tally stats, feature student-athlete highlight video and many more features critical to a student-athlete getting noticed by coaches.
Dendy is lucky. He already has accounts created, and his older brother, Lamar Dendy, helps Austyn with his social media.
But the Social Media Safety Act that Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed into law Wednesday will affect upcoming Arkansas student-athletes — and any Arkansan younger than 18 seeking to open a new social media account. The bill requires parental consent to open such an account as well as third-party verification to confirm identity. The law takes effect Sept. 1.
“Social media is extremely important for kids wanting to get to the next level in sports,” Lamar Dendy said. “I personally made Austyn a full website to be able to find everything about him in one place. Social media makes it easier for kids to get exposure, not just locally but worldwide. Posting highlight clips and pictures to social media gives a kid a better chance at being seen by colleges and scouts.”
Support and understanding
Many student-athletes live in single-parent households or with elderly relatives who may not be able to understand how to grant permission to minors to use social media.
“There are many teenagers and young adults who do not live in a household with supportive parents,” said Chris MacKenzie, communications director for the Chamber of Progress, a new tech industry coalition devoted to a progressive society, economy, workforce and consumer climate based in MacLean, Va.
“To begin with, there are tens of thousands of Arkansas children who are caught in cases of abuse and neglect each year. Connecting with online communities can be critical for these children as they seek support.”
“There are also teens and young adults who live with supportive parents, but whose parents may not understand the benefits of their child connecting with the world online,” MacKenzie said. “Athletes building an online profile is exactly right. Whether a young adult is an athlete, a musician, or an aspiring entrepreneur, building an online following can have career benefits.”
Not just minors affected
The legislation, though, doesn’t just affect those under 18. The law requires anyone creating new social media accounts to upload a digital copy of a driver’s license or government-issued ID.
Social media companies that earn $100,000,000 in gross annual revenue like Meta (Facebook), Twitter and TikTok must use a third-party vendor to perform reasonable age verification before allowing access to their platforms. This verification could include requiring a digital copy of a driver’s license, government ID or other “commercially reasonable” methods.
Before allowing someone under 18 to become a new account holder, the sites must confirm that the minor has a parent’s permission.
Social media companies could be civilly and criminally liable if they knowingly fail to perform reasonable age verification.
Violation could also require companies to pay penalties to an individual, including a $2,500 fine for each infraction and damages resulting from a minor accessing social media without parental consent.
The law exempts some platforms, like YouTube, LinkedIn, online video games, email and messenger services, streaming sites and e-commerce.
Sanders’ office had no comment Wednesday about how the law will affect Arkansas student-athletes’ abilities to be competitive on social media with their peers in states that do not have similar restrictions.
Sanders emphasized the child-protection aspect of the legislation at Wednesday’s signing ceremony.
The new law “makes Arkansas a national leader in protecting our kids,” Sanders said. “While social media can be a great tool and a wonderful resource, it can have a massive negative impact on our kids.
“I have a 10-year-old, a 9-year-old and a 7-year-old and seeing the increase that we have, not just here in Arkansas, but across the country when it comes to things like depression, anxiety, loneliness, suicide rates — particularly in teenage girls — you start to pay attention to what are things that are contributing to that,” she said.
Alexa Henning, Sanders’ communication director, said Hudl was also excluded from the law.
Still, Hudl accounts are connected to popular platforms student-athletes use like Instagram and Twitter.
Byron Jenkins of Arkansas Athlete Connection, a website that serves as a booking agent for Arkansas athletes, said the legislation was “going backwards.”
“We should be moving forward not backwards,” Jenkins said.
Twitter, Jenkins said, is a playground for coaches, recruiters and athletes to connect before a student-athlete even hits a campus for a visit to see if he or she wants to attend.
“Recruiters used to come to campuses to get a feel for a player. Then recruiters started using social media, following players and following coaches to get to know a player. Without social media exposure, that lack of exposure, our students won’t get the attention that student-athletes in other states will.”
‘Ready to defend the law’
Similar social media bills are currently in other state legislatures, including Texas.
Utah has already passed a similar law that goes further than Arkansas’ law. In Utah, with a strict 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. curfew, minors would be locked out of their accounts unless their parents disable the feature. In Utah parents could also access their children’s posts and messages.
Jenkins, a strong advocate for student-athletes creating brands that lead to name-image-likeness deals, said that he understood the impetus behind protecting children on social media but said the positives outweigh the negatives.
“Every college coach is on social media to recruit student-athletes,” he said. “This puts our players at a direct disadvantage. How are recruiters supposed to find student-athletes in Arkansas?”
Regardless of sports and the benefits of social media to student-athletes like Austyn Dendy, Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin said, “If challenged, I stand ready to defend the law.”
Correction: A sentence that paraphrased Chris MacKenzie in an earlier version of this story has been removed because it did not accurately reflect his remarks. The story has also been updated to more accurately reflect comments from Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ communication director.
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