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Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, R, last week signed into law a bill that requires social media companies to get the consent of parents or legal guardians before allowing those under 18 to start an account.
Known as the Social Media Safety Act, SB 396 requires a third-party to verify a person’s age via government-issued identification or personal information. The law was signed after the state sued Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, and TikTok, alleging that the social media companies knowingly created their apps to be addictive to youth and that TikTok promotes explicit content to children.
The governor stated,
“We know that social media, while it can be a great tool, and it’s something a lot of us use on a daily basis and can be a great resource, can also be really dangerous for young kids. Depression, loneliness, suicide rates among teenagers have doubled since social media became so widespread. And so our ability to help protect kids and make sure that parents are aware of what their kids are engaging, I think, is an important part of us, again, continuing to provide as much protection for minors as possible. And that’s what this legislation does and addresses.”
State Sen. Tyler Dees, R, a co-sponsor of the legislation, further stated, “The purpose of this bill was to empower parents and protect kids from social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat.”
The legislation characterizes a social media company as “an online forum that a company makes available for an account holder to: Create a public profile, establish an account, or register as a user for the primary purpose of interacting socially with other profiles and accounts; upload or create posts or content; view posts or content of other account holders; and interact with other account holders or users, including without limitation establishing mutual connections through request and acceptance.”
The law contains many statements of what is not considered a social media company that has caused some to question exactly which companies are required to obey the law. For example, the legislation excludes companies that offer subscription content and whose purpose is not social interaction, which would mean that Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are all excluded. “We worked with stakeholders to ensure that email, text messaging, video streaming, and networking websites were not covered by the bill,” noted Dees.
Moreover, it appears that TikTok, as well as Snapchat, are not considered social media companies under the law because the legislation says that any social media platform that allows “a user to generate short video clips of dancing, voice overs, or other acts of entertainment in which the primary purpose is not educational or informative, does not meet the exclusion under subdivision (7)(B)(i) of this section.”
The law also exempts social media companies that have earned less than $100 million.
Social media companies who are covered under the law and allow minors to sign up without the requisite consent will be fined $2,500 per violation.
Utah passed a law requiring parental consent for social media use in March.
There is no good reason for a person under the age of 18 to have a social media account without a parent’s permission. Parents have a right to know what their child is doing and who they are speaking to, for starters, but social media is a uniquely dangerous place for children to be without supervision. While on social media, a minor will be exposed to ideas and images that can warp, damage, or completely destroy their worldview, mental health, innocence, and sense of safety. Moreover, online predators will seek to exploit them using sophisticated deception and manipulation, and children have no real defenses against such tactics, which are designed to first gain their trust and then to take advantage of them.
The stories of children who have been victimized by adult online predators are legion, and their stories are tragic and heartbreaking.
In Matthew 10, Jesus said to His disciples,
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”
Parents must exercise wisdom and extreme restraint when it comes to allowing their children on social media or the Internet generally. In fact, rather than merely restrict its use, parents should keep their children off of social media altogether, as well as online gaming sites and other platforms that draw predators. If that sounds like a radical position, it’s not. Many parents have implemented this policy, including actress Jennifer Garner. The A-list celebrity explained in a recent interview that she doesn’t allow any of her three teenaged daughters on social media sites, and her 17-year-old, who once protested, is now grateful that her mother stood firm on the issue.
The Bible gives parents have both the right and the responsibility to safeguard and guide their children in every possible way. The world will say that children need to be on social media to thrive socially, but this is just one more form of emotional manipulation. Experts now admit that social media use is one of the biggest threats to a child’s emotional, mental, and physical well-being.
The new Arkansas law isn’t perfect, but it does provide an extra layer of defense for parents of the rebellious child who tries to circumnavigate the family rules by trying to open an account while at school or a friend’s house. Government’s role is to restrain evil and protect its citizens from harm. This law helps to do this, and that’s something for which both parents and children should be grateful.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.