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Kids and teens under 18 years old in Louisiana may soon need their parents’ permission to sign up for online accounts, including for social media, gaming and more, under a newly passed bill in the state.
The measure, which still needs to be signed by the state’s governor to take effect, follows a trend of laws in conservative states such as Utah and Arkansas that seek to limit adolescents’ unrestricted access to social media. Liberal states such as California as well as some Democratic lawmakers in Congress have also been working on new regulations to protect kids from some of the harmful effects of social media.
While protecting kids on the internet is a value shared across the board, tech companies and many civil society groups that oppose the industry in other matters have warned such legislation ignores the positive effects social media can have, particularly for marginalized youth. They also warn new restrictions could have unintended harmful effects on kids, such as limiting the resources they have to turn to for help out of a negative home life and forcing tech platforms to collect more information on both kids and adults to ensure compliance based on age.
Still, the unanimous vote in both chambers of the Louisiana state legislature underscores the popularity of legislation aimed at protecting kids from online harms.
The bill would also clarify agreements minors made when they signed up for existing accounts can be rendered null. The state code already says parents or legal guardians can rescind contracts their kids sign up for.
NetChoice, a group that represents internet platforms including Amazon, Google, Meta and TikTok, said it opposes the Louisiana bill and hopes the governor will veto it. NetChoice is currently suing the state of California for its Age-Appropriate Design Code that has similar aims to protect kids from online harms, due to alleged First Amendment issues. NetChoice Vice President and General Counsel Carl Szabo said in a statement that the Louisiana bill would also violate the First Amendment.
“It will decimate anonymous browsing and gaming — requiring citizens to hand over data to prove their identity and age just to use an online service. Anonymity can be important for individuals using social media services for things like whistleblowers, victims, and those identifying crime in the neighborhood who fear backlash,” Szabo said. “What’s worse is that it fails to really address the underlying issues. Instead, Louisiana policymakers could actually help teens and parents by following the educational approaches of Virginia and Florida.”
The office of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the bill. If he chooses to sign it, it will take effect in August 2024.