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Arkansas law protecting minors from social media blocked by Obama-appointed judge

 September 2, 2023

Timothy Brooks, a federal judge in Arkansas, on Thursday temporarily halted a state law that would have mandated parental consent for minors attempting to set up new social media profiles, stopping authorities from implementing the restriction just a day before its planned commencement, as Fox News reported.

The injunction, sought by NetChoice — a conglomerate of tech giants that include the likes of Meta, TikTok, and the platform X (previously known as Twitter) — took issue with the Social Media Safety Act (SB396), which had Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' endorsement from earlier in the year.

Chris Marchese, representing NetChoice, expressed satisfaction at the court's decision, emphasizing the need to protect free speech and the First Amendment.

"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 as our case proceeds," he remarked, indicating the group's hope for a permanent block on the law.

Details of the Controversial Legislation

Under the proposed legislation, companies that knowingly disregard the age confirmation guideline would face penalties of up to $2,500 for each offense.

Additionally, the law would bar these platforms and associated third-party entities from retaining users' personal data post-site access.

However, the legislation specifically targeted platforms with an annual income exceeding $100 million. Platforms like LinkedIn, Google, and YouTube were exempt.

In his 50-page judgment, Judge Brooks was skeptical about the law's efficacy. He noted that the real concerns of the state seem to center around particular content rather than age-based platform access.

Brooks also pointed out the inadequacy of the legislation in clarifying which platforms would fall under these rules and found issues with the specific exemptions made.

The Push for Child Safety Online

In May, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy highlighted what he described as the lack of conclusive evidence regarding social media's safety for young individuals.

In tandem, Gov. Sanders has been vocal about the detrimental effects of social media on adolescent mental health, a concern that has gained traction over recent years.

Sanders' spokeswoman, Alex Henning, shared a statement emphasizing the dangers big tech companies pose.

Henning stated, "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."

She expressed disappointment at the court's recent ruling but remained optimistic about the law's future defense and implementation.

Sharing similar sentiments, Republican Attorney General Tim Griffin conveyed his dismay over the decision but assured Arkansas that he remains committed to safeguarding children's interests.

Looking Ahead: A Growing Trend?

The legislation at issue is not an outlier across the country. Utah has approved a similar measure, which is set to take effect in March 2024, and both Texas and Louisiana have crafted similar laws that are awaiting implementation next year.

Republican lawmakers in Georgia also intend to advocate for a comparable regulation in the coming year, while a bipartisan initiative proposing age limitations on social media is currently also under consideration in Congress.