'Texas Parents Have Had Enough': New Law Requires Parental Consent for Kids to Use Social Media
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In a major step to protect kids online, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a law this week that requires children under the age of 18 to obtain parental consent before accessing social media platforms.
HB 18, or the Securing Children Online through Parental Empowerment (SCOPE) law, will require "digital service providers" to get permission from a parent or guardian before allowing a child to open an account.
"The list of harms children are exposed to and experience as a result of increased use of digital services is troubling and ever-growing—addiction, depression, loneliness, dissatisfaction with life, anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders, sex trafficking, cyberbullying, Child Sexual Abusive Material (CSAM), suicide," the Texas Public Policy Foundation reported.
Texas state representative Shelby Slawson wrote the law intending to protect kids from a system that makes children more susceptible to grooming and other harmful practices.
"Our children are experiencing all manner of harms via overexposure to digital platforms and predatory algorithms, manifesting in increased rates of self-harm, suicide, substance abuse, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and other mental health issues," Slawson said in a statement earlier this year. "Texas parents have had enough."
The bill also allows parents who grant consent to have full access to their child's account. The service provider would only have to provide "a simple and easily accessible method" for the parent to do so.
Critics of the legislation contend that the law not only raises an issue over privacy but that the state is overstepping its boundaries.
"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," Carl Szabo, NetChoice vice president, and general counsel, said in a statement Tuesday. "This new law prioritizes government decree over Texan family values."
Meta, formerly known as Facebook, testified at a Texas Senate committee hearing in early April opposing the bill. They said that although the bill is well-intentioned, it undermines its existing safeguards.
"We automatically set teens' accounts to private when they join Instagram, and we send notifications encouraging them to take regular breaks," Meta said in a statement. "We don't allow content that promotes suicide, self-harm, or eating disorders, and of the content we remove or take action on, we identify over 99% of it before it's reported to us. We'll continue to work closely with experts, policymakers, and parents on these important issues."
But as CBN's Faithwire recently reported, Instagram's recommendation algorithm has promoted a "vast pedophile network" advertising the sale of child sexual abuse material.
Haley McNamara, vice president of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), told Faithwire the Meta-owned platform has "enabled predators to reach children for far too long."
"NCOSE brought the existence of grooming and pedophile networks to Instagram's attention several years ago and continues to do so, which is why Instagram is on the 2023 Dirty Dozen List of mainstream contributors to sexual exploitation," said McNamara.
As the Texas Public Policy Foundation explains, the bill broadly requires all digital services, not just social media platforms, to provide "protections and transparency on the use of algorithms, which are the key driver behind harmful content being served to children."
"I'm a dad. I have two young kids," Zach Whiting with Texas Public Policy Foundation said. "I think this is one of those things that parents are realizing. In the digital age, it's harder to parent."
"The need to protect kids that are literally dying from harmful content online far outweighs any concern from any industry," Whiting said. "That far outweighs the argument that this is too hard to do it. Because frankly it's not and they're already doing it."
This law would not be retroactive for accounts that already exist.
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