Last year, state lawmakers concerned about a national youth mental health crisis passed a series of online safety measures for children. A new law in Utah requires social networks to get parental consent before giving accounts to children under 18, while a new law in California requires many sites to turn on the highest level of privacy settings for minors.
Now, lawmakers in Louisiana have passed a broader bill that could affect minors’ access to swathes of the internet in the state.
Louisiana Measures Online services — including social networking, multiplayer gaming and video-sharing apps — that allow people under 18 to register accounts without parental consent will be banned. It will also allow parents in Louisiana to cancel the terms of service contracts their children have signed for existing accounts on popular services such as TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Fortnite and Roblox.
this Louisiana Civil Code Parents are already allowed to rescind contracts signed by dependent minors. Laurie Schlegel, the Republican state representative who spearheaded the new measure, said her bill simply makes clear that the state’s existing contractual provisions also cover accounts on online content-sharing platforms.
“This is already Louisiana law,” Ms. Schlegel said in an email, noting that young people lack the ability to understand and agree to the extensive contractual terms that are often required to open an account with an online service. “We’re just clarifying to some irresponsible online companies that have signed contracts with minors without parental consent.”
The Louisiana Legislature passed the bill in a 97-0 vote on Tuesday. The state Senate has already passed the measure. The bill now needs to be approved by Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has yet to take a position publicly. If he signs the bill, it will take effect on Aug. 1 next year.
The state bill comes two weeks after the surgeon general’s release Public Advisory Warning Americans see social media as a serious threat to young people’s mental health and are urging policymakers to limit children’s use of social media. It is likely to be welcomed by many parents who worry about their children being inundated with inappropriate content or spending unhealthy online time.
TechNet, an industry group whose members include Meta, Snap, Google, Amazon, Apple and Uber, opposed the bill, saying it was too broad and could create friction for all users, including adults.
“The bill would require all users to provide proof of their age to comply with the law, and require parents to provide proof that they are a minor to access the platform,” said Servando Esparza, executive director of TechNet Texas and U.S. Southeast Asia, in said in an emailed statement. “This could jeopardize privacy and lead to unintended consequences,” he added, noting that Louisiana lawmakers recently amended the bill to require a study of the measure’s potential impact before it goes into effect.
The Louisiana Online Contracts Act is part of a new wave of state laws this year that regulate Internet services that may pose risks to young people. It also underscores efforts by Republican state lawmakers to give families more control over their children’s online activities.
Last year, Ms. Schlegel spearheaded the passage of a Louisiana law that requires sexually explicit sites to verify that users in the state are 18 or older by checking credentials such as verified digital driver’s licenses. The law went into effect in January.
Since then, at least five states — Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, Utah and Virginia — have passed similar age-verification laws for porn sites.
In March, Republican lawmakers in Utah sponsored passage of a restrictive social media bill that would require social networks to verify users’ ages and obtain parental consent for minors to have accounts. The legislation would also allow parents to access their children’s online posts and information. Arkansas enacted a similar measure in April.
In May, the Free Speech Coalition, which represents adult entertainment sites, sue utah Tried to block age-verification bill for pornography on free speech grounds, saying it violated Americans’ right to view constitutionally protected information.
Civil liberties groups have raised similar concerns about the broader Children’s Online Safety Act, saying the measures could discourage young people from viewing online information.
Louisiana’s new bill doesn’t specifically require social media, multiplayer gaming and other sites and apps to verify the age of users in the state. And it doesn’t include specific penalties for companies that don’t comply.
Even so, it could lead to stricter age verification and parental consent procedures for some online services that currently require new users to voluntarily provide their date of birth.
Like Ms. Schlegel’s pornography bill, the new online contracts bill is likely to be widely replicated. The civil codes of many other states have similar provisions for contracts with minors.
“It’s time for Big Tech to take more responsibility for our kids online,” Ms. Schlegel wrote. “The harm is real.”