Some US States have laws or are considering laws that prevent certain minors from using social media without the consent of their parents. Arkansas, Utah, and even the federal US government have brought up or implemented these kinds of laws, but they have come with controversy.
Do these laws have a negative or positive effect? Are they even effective?
The first US state to pass a law addressing parental consent for social media was Utah in March 2023. The law also prevents minors from being on social media at certain late-night hours, and requires age verification, according to NPR.
Arkansas passed a law requiring social media companies to collect a photo ID of new users to determine their age. People under the age of 18 in the state will need their parents’ consent to create an account on social media sites, according to Vice.
Ohio, Texas, Louisiana, and New Jersey are considering similar laws. And there could be more coming at the federal level.
What Are the Benefits of These Laws?
Safety is the biggest concern driving social media parental consent laws—the idea is that parents can keep their children safe by monitoring their social media use. Parental involvement in social media use may help kids make safe decisions when it comes to interacting with others online.
There are many dangerous actors on social media that may try to take advantage of a child or put them in harm’s way. An involved adult can teach the child internet safety and prevent harm. Many people believe this prevention benefit outweighs the negatives of social media parental consent laws.
Protecting children’s privacy is another benefit of these laws. Many children do not understand the terms and conditions surrounding user data on social media platforms. Adding parental consent to these platforms means that the parent can make an informed decision.
For example, TikTok can be dangerous to personal privacy. Parents can help make informed decisions on whether they want their children’s data shared with the app.
The first drawback of these laws is that it is not clear how they will be enforced. Platforms like Instagram have required users to add their birthday to verify their age, but underage children still find a way to make accounts. Requiring a photo ID is one workaround for this, but then how does the platform confirm that the person giving consent is actually the child’s legal guardian?
According to NPR, these laws can even take away privacy from the child. Although the child’s data privacy might be protected, many children, especially teens, need a degree of online privacy from their parents. Some even claim that these laws violate minors’ First Amendment rights to free speech.
The American Psychological Association (APA) notes that social media can be beneficial to kids’ ability to form friendships, especially for those in marginalized groups that don’t have a community where they live. Social media parental consent laws may stifle this development.
It will take many years to know if social media parental consent laws like these are truly effective, and what the impacts will be on children affected by the laws as they become adults.
With the laws not having clear methods of enforcement, their effectiveness is limited. Children can use their parent’s or another adult’s account without consent by taking their phone or knowing their password. Many parents may just give consent without knowing what they are signing their child up for, defeating the point of parental consent altogether.
And with the long history of children lying their way onto social media, they will probably continue to do so. There are many reasons why people lie about their age online.
Ultimately, these laws could have many benefits for children’s safety, but they risk freedom of expression and are not well enforced. Laws like these with the intention of protecting children online will need to consider and fix these negatives before they can be truly considered effective and beneficial. As they stand, the laws don’t do enough to balance minors’ autonomy with their safety.
Lawmakers should definitely be doing something to keep children safe on social media. These laws just don’t seem to be the right answer to the problem they are trying to solve.
Social media has long been a lawless land for minors, especially teens. With a smartphone, they could access almost whatever they wanted.
Social media parental consent laws may be the end of this, for better or for worse, as long as they can manage to be effective at protecting children and their online presence.