April 24, 2024

Louisianans who have visited Pornhub in recent months have encountered a surprising new demand. They must provide proof they are at least 18 years old before they can play pornographic videos.

That’s because Louisiana lawmakers have passed legislation Last year, publishers who post online material that may be “harmful to minors” were required to verify that their users are adults.

Louisiana has moved to the forefront of keeping young people safe from potentially harmful content across the country by requiring certain online services to ban or restrict minors on their platforms. As a result, people in many other states may soon find that they, too, need to use credentials such as a digitized driver’s license to access a host of services, including popular social media apps.

The proposed restrictions, imposed by at least two states last year, will not only change the online experience for children and teens. They could also reshape the internet for millions of adults, ushering in a shift in the cultural fabric toward a stricter, age-restricted online world.

A flurry of new bills could come as a relief to parents worried about their children being bombarded with pornographic images or targeted by strangers online. But civil liberties groups say certain bills could make it difficult for Americans, including minors, to view online information to which they are entitled, violating principles of free speech.

Utah and Arkansas recently enacted laws requiring social apps such as TikTok and Instagram to verify the age of their users and obtain parental consent before granting accounts to minors. While many sites already require people to register their date of birth — a self-reporting system that children can often subvert by entering a false birth year — the new national rules could prompt many platforms to institute stricter age verification systems , including government ID cards.

In late April, four U.S. senators introduced the Protecting Children on Social Media Act. bill The social network will be required to verify users’ ages, ban children under 13 and seek parental consent for users aged 13 to 17.

Laurie SchlegelThe Republican state representative, a Louisiana law lead, said she was inspired to take action last year after hearing a podcast in which the singer-songwriter Billie Eilish tells Howard Stern Watching online porn as a child ‘ruined my brain’.

Ms. Schlegel said she believed the digital world needed the same type of adult-only areas that existed in the real world, where consumers were often required to show ID to buy alcohol. For example, she noted that the state of Louisiana already requires online gambling and alcohol delivery services to verify the age of customers through credentials such as driver’s licenses.

“As a society, we’ve agreed not to let 15-year-olds go to bars or strip clubs,” Ms. Schlegel said. “There should be the same protections online so you know a 10-year-old isn’t looking at hardcore porn.”

Ms. Schlegel added that she considered possible challenges to free speech when crafting the age verification bill. To avoid sweeping the health platform, Louisiana’s measure covers pornographic sites whose content meets longstanding legal tests for “material harmful to minors,” she said.

But civil liberties experts say some proposed restrictions on harmful material and social media sites could create age-verification barriers for Americans seeking free access to online information. If the rules aren’t overturned, these experts argue, they could fundamentally change the internet — turning the online world into a walled-off patchwork, or allowing popular platforms to narrow their offerings to avoid triggering the rules.

“Not only does it impede minors’ free speech,” but it also cuts off adults’ access to online information, he said Nadine Strawsonformer national president of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Civil liberties groups say they are considering lawsuits to block some of the new laws.

Attempts to impose age restrictions on the internet have faced constitutional challenges in the past. In 1997, the Supreme Court struck down federal rules that made it illegal to knowingly send or display “obscene or indecent” material to anyone under 18, saying the rules restricted free speech.

At the time, age verification software wasn’t widely available online. This is no longer the case.

Louisiana is a national leader on the issue, in part because it has technology readily available: a state-sanctioned mobile app called “LA Wallet,” which allows residents to digitally scan their Louisiana driver’s licenses .

LA Wallet works by verifying a user’s ID with the state Department of Motor Vehicles. This allows Louisianans to use the app like a physical license, such as proving their age at a bar.

LA Wallet’s number of new users more than tripled to about 5,200 a day after age-verification laws for online pornography went into effect in January, it said. Enwork, the Louisiana software company behind the app. Now, when users in Louisiana visit a site like Pornhub, the site asks them to enter a unique code to verify their age with LA Wallet. The app then checks the user’s age and notifies the porn site if the user is of age.

Envoc President Calvin Fabre said the system was designed to preserve privacy. LA Wallet does not send personal information about its users to pornographic sites, nor does it retain information about sites where its users request age verification, he said.

Since Louisiana enacted the measure last year, at least a dozen other states have introduced similar age-verification laws for online pornography.Including Utahwhich also has a Digital Driver’s License Program. Many other states are pilot testing mobile permits.

Even so, there are loopholes. For example, to bypass age checks, people in Louisiana may use location-blocking software, which can make them appear to be in another state.

But many porn sites have yet to set up age-verification systems for users in Louisiana, said Solomon Friedman, a partner at Ethical Capital Partners. Private Equity Firm That Recently Acquired MindGeekthe company behind adult sites like Pornhub.

“Pornhub fully complies with the law,” Mr Friedman said, “even though we know it doesn’t actually protect children because so many other sites don’t.

To encourage more compliance, Ms. Schlegel recently introduced a bill that would allow states to impose specific fines on porn sites that fail to verify users’ ages.

Some social media platforms say they are stepping up efforts to identify and remove underage users.

Meta says it’s started use artificial intelligence Tool to help identify young people who lie about their age on Instagram and Facebook dating.TikTok, which uses multiple methods to identify underage users, has been say deleted More than 75 million accounts appeared to belong to children under 13 last year.

Even so, Ms. Schlegel of Louisiana is pushing for broader safeguards.

She noted that her state’s civil law does not allow companies to contract with minors without parental consent.March, she proposed a bill Clarified that online services are governed by contractual rules. The Louisiana House of Representatives passed the bill unanimously in late April, and it will now go to the Senate. Such a measure would require sites such as Reddit and Roblox to obtain parental permission for all Louisiana users under the age of 18.

Ms. Schlegel said her legislation was intended to send a message to powerful online platforms: “You need to be more accountable when it comes to our children.”

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