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New Jersey Weighs Restrictions on Minor Social Media Use

States around the country are banning the app TikTok on government devices. Shutterstock.com
States around the country are banning the app TikTok on government devices. Shutterstock.com

By: Christian Wade | The Center Square

New Jersey lawmakers are considering a proposal that would make the state the latest to require children signing up for social media websites and apps to get their parents’ consent.

The proposal would require parental consent before users 18 and younger could sign up for sites like Facebook, TikTok and Instagram. It would also ban instant messaging between children and adults.

Parents or guardians of a minor would be required to provide government-issued identification and credit card information to the social media company and pay a 35-cent fee to process the request. Social media companies would face up to $2,500 for each violation under the proposal.

The bill’s sponsor, state Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, said the restrictions would protect kids from the harms of social media and hold companies more accountable.

“Unfortunately, far too many people in the business of selling things are perfectly willing to engage in behavior and practices that cause a lot of harm if it means they’re going to make a lot of money,” Conaway said in a recent testimony on the bill. “And that’s where government has to step in and say that we have a responsibility to protect the public.”

The proposed regulations come as parents and lawmakers are growing increasingly concerned about how platforms like TikTok, Instagram and others are affecting young people’s mental health. Tech giants have been criticized over user privacy and spreading hate speech and misinformation.

Congress recently held hearings where lawmakers grilled social media executives about efforts to curb online child sexual exploitation.

Last year, Utah became the first state to require children under 16 to get parental consent to access social media websites and apps. The law goes into effect this year.

Lawmakers in other states, including Texas, Ohio and Louisiana, have introduced similar proposals over the past year.

California approved a law last year barring tech companies from profiling children or using personal information in ways that could “harm” them physically or mentally.

Social media companies are banned from collecting data on children under 13 without parental consent under the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, and many platforms require parental consent for kids under that age. But critics say minors often find a way around the restrictions.

Liberal advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have pushed back against the New Jersey proposal, arguing that it would be unconstitutional and infringe on people’s right to exercise the First Amendment online.

Planned Parenthood and Garden State Equality are among those who launched a campaign opposing the legislation, claiming it would deprive LGBTQ children of information and mental health support.

Last year, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill establishing a commission to study the effects of social media usage in and out of school on adolescents.

Related Story: Republicans Seek Broader TikTok Ban

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