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Judge blocks social media parental consent law in Arkansas

In a landmark ruling, U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks has temporarily halted the enforcement of an Arkansas law that sought to mandate parental consent for minors to create new social media accounts. The decision comes after NetChoice, a tech industry trade group, challenged the law’s constitutionality and prevented Arkansas from becoming the first state to impose such a restriction.

Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed the law into effect in April, set to take effect on September 1, 2023. However, it faced immediate opposition and legal scrutiny.

In Judge Brooks’ 50-page ruling, he expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of Arkansas’ approach, stating that “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.” This perspective reflects concerns that parental consent laws may not address online safety and content regulation issues.

Similar laws have been enacted in Texas and Louisiana, though these regulations are not scheduled to take effect until the following year. Furthermore, prominent Republicans in Georgia have expressed their intention to push for parental consent legislation in their state legislature, while some members of Congress have proposed similar measures on a federal level.

NetChoice’s argument against the Arkansas law centered on the violation of constitutional rights and the arbitrary restriction of specific types of speech. Chris Marchese, director of the NetChoice Litigation Center, emphasized, “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, their families, and their businesses.”

However, Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin expressed his disappointment with the court’s decision, affirming his commitment to defending the law and protecting children’s interests.

One notable aspect of the Arkansas law was its applicability only to social media platforms generating more than $100 million in annual revenue. It also excluded certain platforms such as LinkedIn, Google, and YouTube. Judge Brooks found these exemptions to be problematic, asserting that they nullified the state’s intent and created confusion about which platforms would be subject to age-verification requirements.

This case sets an important precedent in the ongoing battle between legislation aimed at protecting children online and the tech industry’s concerns about constitutional rights and the effectiveness of such regulations. The court’s decision to temporarily block the Arkansas law suggests that a nuanced approach may be needed to address the complex challenges posed by children’s access to social media in the digital age.


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