AR Briefly

Arkansas governor-backed bill would require social media age verification

By: - March 9, 2023 4:49 pm

The Arkansas General Assembly will consider a bill that would require social media companies to verify users’ ages and bar minors from using social media without their parents’ permission. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders wants the Arkansas Legislature to require platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, to hire third-party vendors to verify users’ ages.

A bill introduced with the new Republican governor’s support on Thursday would require social media users to provide digital versions of their drivers’ licenses or state IDs to online companies.

Those under 18 would be barred from having social media accounts without parental permission.

“While social media can be a great tool and a good resource for a number of things, many kids are simply not prepared for the negative aspects of it,” Sanders said.

In her gubernatorial campaign and since taking office in January, Sanders has painted herself as someone eager to take on “Big tech,” which she said exploits children for profit.

She drew connections between rising rates of mental illness among teenagers and rise of the social media usage.

Sen. Tyler Dees (R-Siloam Springs), the primary sponsor of the legislation, said Senate Bill 396 intends to only target users creating new accounts. However, the current version of the bill defines an account holder who is subject to the age-verification requirement as “an individual who has or creates an account or a profile to use a social media platform.” The bill could be amended.

“We will protect children and empower parents,” Dees said.

Similar bills have been introduced around the country, and Utah recently passed a social media age verification measure.

Critics question the legality of such legislation, saying it could amount to government overreach. They’ve also raised privacy concerns.

A spokesperson for NetChoice, a tech industry trade association, told Axios that bills, like the one in Utah, have laudable goals.

“But the chosen means are not only unconstitutional, they require businesses to collect sensitive information about all Utahns, putting everyone, even children, at risk,” the spokesperson said.

The Arkansas’ proposal prohibits social media companies from retaining identifying information about users after the verification process has concluded.

Social media companies could be held liable for damages under the bill for age-verification failures or for retaining identifying information.

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Hunter Field
Hunter Field

Hunter Field is a veteran Arkansas journalist whose reporting on the state has carried him from military air strips in northwest Arkansas to soybean fields in the Arkansas delta. Most recently, he was the Democrat-Gazette's projects editor, leading the newspaper's investigative team. A Memphis native, he enjoys smoking barbecue, kayaking and fishing in his free time.