A bill prohibiting children under 18 from signing up for a range of social media platforms without parental consent has been signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
Starting in September of next year, HB 18 will require social media companies to obtain express permission from a minor’s parent or legal guardian before allowing them to sign up for their own accounts. Additionally, it mandates these businesses to develop new filtering systems to block “harmful” content like those pertaining to eating disorders, drug abuse, or “grooming” from reaching minors.
A number of people have expressed their unhappiness about the new law, one of which is Carl Szabo, NetChoice vice president, and general counsel. Szabo in a statement said, “We’re disappointed to see Gov. Abbott sign into law a bill that erodes parental rights while violating the First Amendment and digital freedoms for every Texan.” Szabo further explained that “This new law prioritizes government decree over Texan family values.”
The term “digital service” is quite broadly defined in the state of Texas. According to the rule, adolescents wanting to access almost any website that gathers identifying information, such as an email address, would need parental consent. There are a few exceptions, such as email services and websites that focus solely on distributing news or educational content. Companies found to have broken this law could be sued by the Texas attorney general.
The law’s demands to filter broadly defined “harmful material” and provide parents access to their children’s accounts closely resemble provisions in other federal legislation that have spooked civil and digital rights organizations.
Similar to HB 18, the Kids Online Safety Act, which was sponsored by the US Senate, requires platforms to shield minors from information about disordered eating and other harmful habits. However, critics worry that this terminology may encourage businesses like Instagram or TikTok to regulate non-harmful content excessively in order to avoid legal issues. Overly severe parental restrictions could endanger children in abusive homes by enabling parents to snoop on marginalized kids looking for helpful online resources.
The new Texas law adds to the growing number of states that have lately passed legislation limiting internet access for people under the age of 18. Louisiana enacted a measure requiring parental consent last week. It has also been discussed in Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Ohio.