Arkansas governor signs sweeping bill imposing a minimum age limit for social media usage

The bill signed by Sanders on Wednesday prohibits social media companies from allowing users younger than 14 from having accounts. It also requires social media companies to delete any content posted by users younger than 14 if requested by their parents or guardians.The new law is one of the most

Arkansas governor signs sweeping bill imposing a minimum age limit for social media usage

Washington CNN

Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill that imposes a minimum social media age limit. This is the latest example in a series of aggressive measures taken by states to protect teenagers online.

Sanders signed into law the bill on Wednesday, but the legislation contained many loopholes that benefitted companies who lobbied for the bill. This raised questions about the extent of the industry covered by the bill.

According to legislators, the legislation known as Social Media Safety Act, which will take effect in September this year, is designed to give parents greater control over social media use by their children. Social media companies are defined as any online platform that allows users to create public profiles and engage with one another through digital content.

Companies that provide these services are required to verify all new users' ages and, if they are under 18, to get their parents' consent before allowing the user to create an online account. The law relies on companies to verify personal information of users, such as their driver's licence or photo ID, in order to perform age checks.

Sanders stated at a news conference held before signing the bill that social media could have a negative impact on children.

Utah passed a similar bill last month. This sparked concern among users and advocacy groups, who feared that it could reduce the security of user data, make internet access less private, and violate basic rights for younger users.

States are now pushing to legislate social media after years of increasing scrutiny and allegations that the industry has negatively affected users' mental health and well-being, especially among teenagers.

The new law SB396 has a seemingly universal reach, but it also includes many exemptions, including for some digital services, and in other cases, specific companies. Although its sponsors claim that the law was specifically intended to apply to TikTok and other platforms, some of the legislative provisions appear to have the opposite effect.

Arkansas lawmakers approved a bill amendment in the final days of negotiations that included several exemptions to the age verification requirement. Exemptions were granted to media companies who 'exclusively’ offer subscription content, social media platforms which allow users to create'short video clips of dance, voiceovers, or other forms of entertainment', and companies with social networking services that are 'exclusively focused on video gaming'.

A second amendment excluded companies that provide cloud storage, cybersecurity services for businesses or educational technology while also generating less than 25 percent of their revenue from social media platforms.

Sen. Tyler Dees (a co-sponsor and lead sponsor of the legislation) explained on the Arkansas Senate floor on April 6, that exemptions and tweaks were added to the bill in consultation with Apple Meta and Google. The changes were to protect non-social media sites from the age restrictions and to draw attention to new accounts created by kids, rather than existing adult accounts.

Dees stated that Google provides other services, such as cloud storage. Dees said, 'That's what the bills are really about. Like LinkedIn, which is a social networking site - sorry, a business network, so that's their intent.

Microsoft-owned LinkedIn appears to be exempted under SB396 due to a provision which excludes companies that offer 'career opportunities', such as professional networking, learning certifications and job posting services.

Some lawmakers have asked if the law, which is now in effect, exempts YouTube. YouTube's auto-play feature and its algorithmic recommendation engine are accused of encouraging extremism and radicalizing users.

YouTube is confusing because it has been carved out for companies that provide cloud storage but make less than 25 percent of their revenue through social media.

It is unclear whether YouTube falls under SB396 as it is a separate company within Google, whose revenues are almost exclusively derived from the operation of a social media site. Or if it does not fall under SB396 since YouTube is part of Google but Google is exempt from SB396 due to YouTube generating a very small portion of its revenue.

In response to CNN's questions, Dees stated that SB396 is aimed at platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. However, he did not mention Google, and declined to say whether YouTube would be included in the law.

Dees stated in a press release that the purpose of the bill was to empower and protect parents from social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. We worked with stakeholders to make sure that the bill did not cover email, text messages, video streaming and social networking sites.

Sanders said that Google and Amazon were exempted by the law. This implied that YouTube would not be subject to age verification requirements that are imposed on major social media websites.

Dees's statement seemed to contradict the SB396 language that exempts any company who 'allows users to create short videos of dancing, voiceovers, or other entertainment acts in which the primary goal is not educational or informational' -- content found commonly on TikTok and Snapchat, as well as the other social media platforms Deese mentioned.