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Arkansas governor, lawmakers push bill to require age verification for social media usage

Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., as seen in 2015.
Alison Yin
Invision for Nintendo/Facebook
Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., as seen in 2015.

Gov. Sarah Sanders, along with Sen. Tyler Dees, R- Siloam Springs, and Rep. Jon Eubanks, R-Paris, introduced legislation on Thursday (March 9) that would regulate social media companies and require age verification from users on social media sites.

Sanders said SB 396, the Social Media Safety Act, is needed given social media can be dangerous for kids.

“It’s already an incredibly dangerous world. The last thing they [kids] need is to be exposed to the most evil parts of it that play out on social media everyday,” she told reporters at a press conference at the state capitol.

A survey conducted in 2022 by the World Economic Forum shows 46% of U.S teens report being on the internet constantly and 48% reported they use it several times a day. Youtube, TikTok and Instagram were the most visited sites by teens in the U.S., according to the survey.

According to the Social Media Safety Act, users would have to submit a “digitized identification card” that shows they are at least 18 years old. Sanders said if the user is under 18 years of age, they will need their parents’ permission to use the site. She added social media companies will be liable if underage users are on the site without parental approval.

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

She said the attorney general’s office would have the ability to hold social media companies accountable for not following these regulations.

Sanders said this type of protection is needed citing studies that show that teenage depression doubled from 2009 to 2019. She also cited documents that were released by Frances Haugen, a Meta whistleblower, showing Instagram was damaging the mental health of young girls.

“The company hid those findings, lying to parents and kids just to continue to up their profits. Arkansas is finally giving parents the tools to protect their parents,” Sanders said.

In a statement to The Verge, Meta said the studies were designed to help the company improve its product by helping the product team understand how users feel about the site and not a survey to see the correlation between the site and mental health.

Dees, who is the Senate sponsor for the bill, agreed with Sanders that the bill would give parents the ability to protect their children from harmful material on social media sites. He said a third of crime and sex crimes are traced back to social media.

“We’re seeing a culture that’s eroding and it’s happening online. We will empower parents through this act,” he said.

Eubanks, who is the House sponsor for the bill, said parents have been telling him social media is having a negative impact on their kids. He explained the FBI telling members of the Arkansas House to delete TikTok shows how harmful these sites can be for kids.

“If those things are a risk for adults, how much more of a risk are they for our children, who are very impressionable,” he said.

When asked how the verification system would be administered, Sanders said social media companies would have to use a third party system to handle and verify documents.

Sanders said the third party system is also a way to protect information submitted by users. According to the bill, third party systems can be punished if they knowingly retain information from users after they have been verified and granted access to the site.