Federal judge blocks Ohio law requiring parental consent for social media use

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A federal judge on Tuesday blocked an Ohio law that would have forced social media companies to get parental permission before signing up minors for the platforms, ruling that the law violates the users’ free speech rights.

The Social Media Parental Notification Act, passed in July, would have required sites to gain parental permission for all users under the age of 16. It was challenged by a consortium of social media companies, including TikTok parent ByteDance and Instagram parent Meta, via industry group NetChoice.

Ohio federal judge Algenon Marbley agreed with NetChoice, determining that the parental permission requirement is an undue burden on the rights of platform users.

“Foreclosing minors under sixteen from accessing all content on websites that the Act purports to cover, absent affirmative parental consent, is a breathtakingly blunt instrument for reducing social media’s harm to children,” Marbley wrote.

The ruling marks a speed bump for conservative efforts to hamper young people’s access to social media sites, citing mental health risks. Multiple states have pursued similar bans, including a law in Utah that is also under legal scrutiny from the same industry group.

The Supreme Court also heard arguments on a pair of suits against Texas and Florida social media content moderation laws last year, also challenged by NetChoice. The laws prevented the sites from censoring users based on political beliefs. The high court has not released a decision in those cases.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) denounced Marbley’s decision in a statement, calling the bill critical for young people’s wellbeing.

“There is overwhelming evidence that social media has a negative effect on the mental health of minors, including increases in depression and suicide-related behavior,” DeWine said. “The Social Media Parental Notification Act remains a reasonable, clear, narrowly tailored, and, I believe, lawful approach to provide safeguards and parental guidance.” 

“I am disappointed in today’s ruling by the district court and respectfully disagree with it,” he continued. “Since the federal courts are interpreting federal constitutional law as preventing the State of Ohio from protecting Ohio’s children, then Congress needs to act to protect our country’s children.”

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