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Sarah Huckabee Sanders announces support for bill requiring tech companies to verify users age

By Sarah May on
 March 12, 2023

First-term Republican Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders this week declared her support for legislation that would compel social media platforms to verify the age of users prior to allowing them access, as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.

Senate Bill 396, also known as the Social Media Safety Act was introduced on Thursday by state Sen. Tyler Dees (R-Siloam Springs) and state Rep. Jon Eubanks (R-Paris), as KUAR in Little Rock noted.

Social Media Safety Act unveiled

As the Democrat-Gazette explained, the proposed measure provides that prospective social media users under the age of 18 would need to secure parental permission in order to have and use an account on such platforms.

To ensure compliance with the state law, large social media firms would be responsible for contracting with third party vendors who would implement processes for age verification checks required by the statute.

In addition to fulfilling the age verification function, Sanders noted that the third party vendor requirement would help in protecting personal information submitted by platform users.

The bill provides that any third-party contractor engaged to assist in age verification processes would face liability if they knowingly retained user information once they had received access to the desired site.

Sanders explains rationale

In the governor's estimation, the bill at issue is of critical importance due to the dangers social media can pose to the nation's youth, which she explained during a press conference at the Arkansas capitol.

“It's already an incredibly dangerous world. The last thing [kids] need is to be exposed to the most evil parts of it that play out on social media every day.”

Sanders continued, “If social media companies fail to follow the law, we will hold them accountable in criminal and civil court.”

The governor cited research studies indicating the dramatic rise in depression among teens between the years of 2009 to 2019, further noting information brought forth by a whistleblower from Facebook's parent company, Meta, that revealed the harm Instagram can do to the mental health of young females.

Bill co-sponsors speak out

As one of the bill's co-sponsors, Dees echoed Sanders' sentiments, noting that the measure would arm parents with the tools needed to keep their kids safe from detrimental content on social media platforms.

Dees cited statistics suggesting that a third of sex crimes and crimes in general can be traced back in some way to social media, according to KUAR.

“We're seeing a culture that's eroding, and it's happening online,” Dees lamented. “We will empower parents through this act.”

Eubanks, for his part, referenced stories he has personally heard from parents articulating the noticeable harm social media has done to their children, pointing to the FBI's advice to Arkansas House members to delete the TikTok social media app as evidence of the danger. “If those things are a risk for adults, how much more of a risk are they for our children, who are very impressionable?” he asked.

Hitting the ground running

Though she has only been in office since January, Sanders has already taken a number of steps in an effort to reverse some of the cultural erosion to which Dees referred, including with regard to the fentanyl epidemic.

Just last month, the governor announced her support for a bill that would pave the way for drug dealers to be charged with murder if their trafficking activities result in a fatal overdose, as the Democrat-Gazette reported separately.

Under the Sanders-supported measure, anyone suspected of delivering drugs that cause an overdose would face a charge of murder, and those involved in trafficking fentanyl to children would face a possible life sentence.

“As a mom, it's hard to see all the lives that are lost, and my heart certainly breaks for every parent who has lost a son or daughter to an overdose,” Sanders said, underscoring the commitment she is already showing to reining in the devastating – and arguably unprecedented – societal and criminal threats with which young people must currently contend.