Social media companies like TikTok and Facebook would be required to get verified parental consent before allowing a child under age 16 to have an account, according to a law proposed by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in his new budget.
“Social media companies are running platforms that are addicting our children, harming our children and we need more parental involvement,” said Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who is taking the lead on the effort and spoke about it during a Dayton visit on Wednesday.
“It is to help parents fight back against really some of the addictive, insidious kinds of things that are happening with social media. Algorithms that are coming from companies like TikTok, a Chinese company, are designed to addict your children with that platform. They’re sending them harmful content.”
If approved the law would require social media companies to collect government identification in order to connect individuals with their accounts, said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel for NetChoice, a trade association representing tech and social media companies.
“This bill requires businesses to vacuum up our most sensitive information and our children’s most sensitive information and is a violation of our constitutional rights of free-speech,” Szabo said. “But, more importantly, it will put every Ohio resident’s personal information in danger.”
The law would apply to social media, online gaming and other online activity companies, including Facebook (Meta), Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat, according to a fact sheet from Husted’s office. The law would not apply to online shopping.
Known as the Social Media Parental Notification Act, the proposal would require social media companies to:
- Create a method to determine whether the user is a child under the age of 16.
- Obtain verifiable parental or legal guardian consent.
- Send written confirmation of the consent to the parent or legal guardian.
If the social media or gaming site user indicates that they are under the age of 16 several verification methods would be permitted, according to the fact sheet.
- Sign a digital form consenting to the terms of service.
- Use a credit card, debit card or other online payment system.
- Call a toll-free telephone number.
- Connect to trained personnel via video-conference.
- Check a form of government-issued identification.
If a parent or legal guardian does not consent to the terms of service the company would be required to deny access. If approved by the Ohio General Assembly and signed into law by Governor DeWine, companies would have 90 days to comply.
“We will definitely be able to enforce it because if social media companies do not get parental consent, do not inform the parents that their children are indeed signed up for these programs, these apps, we can take state action,” Husted said. “We can even take it further by allowing people to take civil action. So we expect social media companies to step forward, be responsible, to sit down with us and find a way to protect children.”
Husted called social media “an experiment gone wrong with our children” and said kids who go on to social media sites can be exposed to harmful information and can even be driven to suicide by extortion attempts.
Husted’s office cites as an example the October suicide of Olentangy High School student Braden Markus, who reportedly was the victim of a person posing as a girl and extorting him over pictures he had sent, according to WBNS-TV in Columbus.
“It’s tragic what’s happening with these kids,” Husted said. “Understand that within minutes after your child signs up for TikTok they could be getting harmful information about suicide, about eating disorders, about sex transition options for them, things you wouldn’t want your children exposed to. Some of these children are 8, 9, 10 years old, getting this without any parental supervision.”
Szabo said a better approach than what DeWine and Husted are proposing is a model used in Virginia, Indiana, and Florida, making social media education part of school curriculum.
“Much in the way we teach math and science, we must teach our teens how to safely and securely navigate the internet,” Szabo said. “Being a parent is hard. It always has been. But the answer is not big government takeovers.”
TikTok and Facebook have not yet responded to requests for comment.