Over the past year, state legislators concerned about a mental health crisis among the nation’s youth have passed a slew of online safety measures for kids. A new law in Utah would require social networks to obtain parental consent before giving an account to a child under 18, while a new law in California would require many sites to enable the highest privacy settings for minors.
Now Louisiana lawmakers have passed an even broader law that could affect access to large parts of the internet for minors in the state.
The Louisiana measure would ban online services including social networking, multiplayer games and video sharing apps from allowing people under the age of 18 to sign up for accounts without parental consent. It would also allow Louisiana parents 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.
Louisiana’s civil code already allows parents to revoke contracts signed by unemancipated minors. Laurie Schlegel, the Republican state legislator who spearheaded the new measure, said her bill simply made it clear that the state’s existing contract rules also covered accounts on online content-sharing platforms.
“This is already the law in Louisiana,” Ms. Schlegel said in an email, noting that young people were unable to understand and agree to the many contract terms and conditions that online services often require to open an account. to open. “We’re just making it clear to some irresponsible online companies that contract with minors without parental consent.”
On Tuesday, the Louisiana State House passed the bill by a vote of 97 to 0. The Senate had already passed the measure. The bill must now be approved by Governor John Bel Edwards, who has not taken a public position on it. If he signs the bill, it will take effect August 1 next year.
The state bill comes two weeks after the surgeon general issued a public advisory warning Americans that social media posed a serious risk to the mental health of young people and urging policymakers to restrict access for children. It can be welcomed by many parents who are concerned about their children being inundated with inappropriate content or spending unhealthy amounts of time online.
TechNet, an industry group of which Meta, Snap, Google, Amazon, Apple and Uber are members, opposed the bill, saying it was too broad and could create friction for all users, including adults.
“The bill requires all users to provide proof of their age to comply with the law and asks parents to prove they are the parent of the minor to access the platform,” said Servando Esparza, executive director of TechNet for Texas and the Southeast, said in an emailed statement. “This could compromise privacy and lead to unintended consequences,” he added, noting that Louisiana lawmakers recently amended the bill to require investigations into the potential impact before the measure takes effect.
Louisiana’s online contracts law this year is part of a new wave of state laws regulating Internet services that could pose risks to young people. And it underscores an increasing effort by Republican state lawmakers to give families more control over their children’s online activities.
Last year, Ms. Schlegel led the passage of a law in Louisiana requiring sexually explicit sites to verify that users in the state are 18 or older by checking credentials, such as a verified digital driver’s license. The law came 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 began passing a restrictive social media law that would require social networks to verify a user’s age and obtain parental consent for minors to have accounts. The legislation would also give parents access to their child’s online posts and messages. Arkansas introduced a similar measure in April.
In May, the Free Speech Coalition, a group representing adult entertainment sites, sued Utah to try to block the pornography age-verification law on free speech grounds because it violated Americans’ right to constitutionally view protected information.
Civil liberties groups have raised similar concerns about broader child safety bills, saying the measures could prevent young people from accessing information online.
Louisiana’s new law doesn’t specifically require social media, multiplayer games, and other sites and apps to verify the ages of users in the state. And it contains no specific sanctions for companies that do not comply.
Still, it may lead some online services that currently ask new users to voluntarily provide their date of birth to institute stricter age verification and parental consent procedures.
Like Ms. Schlegel’s pornography law, the new bill for online contracts could also be widely copied. Civil codes in many other states have similar rules regarding contracts with minors.
“It’s time for big tech to take more responsibility towards our kids online,” Ms. Schlegel wrote. “The damage is real.”