Social media age verification bill gets final approval in Arkansas Legislature
A bill that would require all Arkansans to verify their age before opening a new social media account gained final approval in the legislature Thursday.
Senate Bill 396 would also require minors to get parental approval to open accounts on apps like Facebook and Twitter. Sen. Ricky Hill, R-Cabot, gave an emotional speech against the bill, saying it amounts to censorship and a restriction of commerce. He pushed back against supporters’ assertion it would protect minors from viewing harmful content online.
“No matter what we do, we’re not going to prevent that from happening. We’re wanting to put something into law that’s not going to change anything, except instead of this, we’re going to have our identity stolen,” Hill said, alluding to the bill’s requirement that social media companies verify users’ age through a third-party company.
Social media companies which don’t comply with the bill’s stipulations would be opened up to litigation, and face fines of $2,500 for each violation. Bill sponsor Sen. Tyler Dees, R-Siloam Springs, said it’s needed to help protect minors from potential exploitation.
“This does not ban social media. This is not a First Amendment issue, we are not censoring any sort of free speech at all,” Dees said. “All this does is apply the same logic that we do in a society… the same logic that we think protects kids, and applies it to an online situation.”
Hill called it a “communistic China bill,” invoking his son’s military service and that of fellow lawmakers who “put their lives on the line” to ensure freedom of expression. He cited exceptions in the bill that would allow minors to create accounts on some apps, like TikTok, without parental approval.
“If we’re going to be fair, let’s be fair all the way through. Let’s do away with social media in the State of Arkansas if that’s what we want to do, let’s not pick and choose winners and losers.”
The bill passed on a vote of 21 to three, with eight lawmakers voting present and one not voting. The bill now heads to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders for a signature. Dees also sponsored a bill requiring age verification to view sexually explicit material online, which is also awaiting the governor’s approval.