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Arkansas bill to keep minors off social media makes no sense


Arkansas is now the second US state to impose minimum age restrictions on social media, with Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signing in a new bill on Wednesday that requires parents and guardians to consent to people under 18 opening a new account. The newly approved SB 396 — otherwise dubbed the Social Media Safety Act — comes into effect in September and aims to protect minors in online spaces.

The new law shares some similarities with Utah’s Social Media Regulation Act, which was signed into law last month. Both require users to be at least 18 years of age to open a new social media account and place responsibility on social media companies to verify the age of new users through personal information and government-issued ID.

The bill is so specific on what it considers to be a social media company that it might only be applicable to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

But the bill’s definition of a social network includes several strangely specific caveats. As Techdirt writes, some last-minute amendments outline exceptions to what counts as a “social media company.” Companies that exclusively offer “interacting [sic] gaming, virtual gaming, or an online service that allows the creation and uploading of content” related to it aren’t counted, for instance, possibly excluding services like the Amazon-owned Twitch. Microsoft’s Linkedin probably wouldn’t fall under the new restrictions, either, thanks to exclusions for “professional networking, job skills, learning certifications, and job posting and application services.” 

One amendment excludes any “social media company that allows a user to generate short video clips of dancing, voice overs, or other acts of entertainment,” which services like Snapchat and TikTok would likely fall under. Another exempts businesses that offer cloud storage services and make less than 25 percent of their revenue from operating a social media platform, creating some confusion about whether YouTube would be affected, thanks to the rest of Google’s business portfolio.

Meanwhile, smaller platforms such as Parler, Gab, and Truth Social also wouldn’t be affected as they don’t meet the annual gross revenue requirement of $100 million to qualify. That may limit the new age restrictions to just Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. 

“The purpose of this bill was to empower parents and protect kids from social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat,” said Senator Tyler Dees, a lead co-sponsor of the bill, in a statement to CNN. “We worked with stakeholders to ensure that email, text messaging, video streaming, and networking websites were not covered by the bill.”

Plans on how to enforce the new restrictions are being developed over the next eight to 12 months

Both the Utah and Arkansas bills have drawn criticism regarding user privacy and raised questions about exactly how these restrictions will be enforced. In an interview with PBS, Arkansas state Senator Mike McKell said that the Division of Consumer Protection will be working directly with social media companies over “the next eight months to a year to develop what that looks like.” 

“For years, social media companies have gotten away with exploiting kids for profit. Not anymore,” said Sanders in a Twitter post announcing that she had signed the new law. Last month, Sanders rolled back child labor protections in Arkansas that required children under 16 to verify their age and get parental consent to obtain a work certificate. Some social media users have also noted that while Arkansas residents must be 18 years old to join a social network without a parent’s approval, state law permits them to marry without parental consent at 17.


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