By: Patricia Ashford
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect views of the Journal, the William H. Bowen School of Law, or UA Little Rock.
In April of 2023, Arkansas signed a bill into law that would require social media platforms to verify the ages of any Arkansas users who were minors. In addition to requiring age verification, the bill also set out provisions to address what would happen if a person did not verify their age and also what would happen if a company was found keeping the data longer than needed. The law was set to take effect on September 1, but it was blocked by a federal judge. This law would have been one of the first laws in the nation that would require parental permission for a minor to access social media. This law would have required that a person upload a driver’s license or photo identification before being able to access an existing account and before being able to create a new account. This data would be collected by a third party and the bill required the data to be erased after a certain amount of time and even included punishments if the data was not deleted. But many felt as though this law should not stand and a group called NetChoice sued.
In NetChoice v. Griffin – one of the reasons the judge allowed for the preliminary injunction was that he thought that NetChoice would prevail. The judge allowed for an injunction that would stop the bill from being enacted on September 1 while the parties are still in litigation about it. He thought the legislation was too broad and violated Arkansas’ First Amendment rights. The judge also noted the many different exemptions that the bill had. The bill had an exemption for sports, email, online shopping, and other activities.
Many supporters of the bill stated it was important to ensure that children were safe on social media. Some supporters even stated this would help keep children away from online predators. But most people do not mention how surveillance is not the answer to making the world a safer place.
As people have discussed the increased dangers in the world, often the reaction is for people to increase surveillance. Even in children’s schools, to try and stop school shooters . But all this has created is a society where people are constantly being watched. In some cases, people are afraid this increased surveillance is to their detriment.
Many people turn to the internet to find a safe space or even like-minded people. Some people enjoy the fact that they can be anonymous on the internet and live without being judged. But as more states create laws requiring verification there will be less anonymity. Requiring social media companies to ensure that a person is the correct age by using photo identification is a form of surveillance. Some United States government entities have even admitted to using surveillance of people’s social media to try and eliminate threats. Most social media sites do have an age requirement, while some might be 13 or 12 and restrict what a person of that age is allowed to see and do. Even with this age verification, it is possible for users to input an older birth date. While there is a need to prevent people from circumventing age verification, there is also a need to allow people the ability to interact with the world in the way they choose.
Requiring users to upload their state ID also ignores the fact that even reputable government organizations, such as the IRS, have experienced data breaches. There is no reason to require social media companies or third parties to become holders of people’s personal information. There are other ways to keep children safe that do not increase surveillance of their daily lives.