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TOSCANO And THAYER: Why Is Arkansas Giving Google A Pass?

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Parents and lawmakers are becoming keenly aware of the devastating effect that addiction to social media is having on our kids. We are seeing historic spikes in depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, and hospital visits, especially among adolescent girls.

But states are fighting back. Utah just passed its Social Media Regulation Act that gives more rights to parents to monitor their child’s social media. What’s more, the law requires that social media companies obtain age verification of its users for them to gain access, it sets a digital curfew, and prohibits platforms from using algorithmic designs and features that addict children to their products.

Parents in Arkansas also have cause to celebrate. In April, Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders passed the Social Media Safety Act. The Act requires social media platforms to obtain age verification from their users and to secure express parental permission for users under 18 to open an account. The law also requires that social media companies receive express consent from a parent or guardian for anyone under the age of 18 to open an account. (RELATED: MICHAEL MACHERA: Wikipedia Joins The Woke War On Words)

According to Governor Huckabee Sanders, the law’s objective is simple and direct: “protecting our kids.” Indeed, there is much to applaud in this law. It, like Utah’s, represents yet another bipartisan proposal aimed at protecting our children from Big Tech’s addictive and, at times, fatally harmful social media services.

Unfortunately, there’s one big hole in Arkansas’s law: it doesn’t apply to all tech companies. The law certainly includes Meta and its subsidiaries, Facebook and Instagram—but it exempts Amazon’s Twitch and Google’s YouTube.

But why? Are Twitch and YouTube’s services that distinct from any other social media company? Are they safer than, say, Instagram, TikTok, or Snapchat?


First, they are all “social media” platforms under the law’s own definition, or, frankly, by any recognizable use of the term. The law defines a social media company as an “online forum…that [allows users] to: create a public profile…; upload or create posts or content, view [other’s] posts or content…; and interact with other [users]….” This describes Meta’s platforms just as much as Google and Amazon’s.

What’s more, Twitch and YouTube are just as harmful to children as any other social media app. Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok all use the same psychologically-informed techniques to addict and enthrall their way to greater market share among kids. Addiction is critical to their bottom line, because it keeps kids glued to an app where they can be primed for receptivity to highly sophisticated advertising techniques. Worse, they are all equally negligent in policing content that is harmful to kids, including in their services dedicated to kids, where the neglect is most egregious. It was YouTube Kids that hosted videos instructing children how to commit suicide, as one alarmed mother reported. Gallingly, after several mothers brought this to Google’s attention, it took the tech behemoth a few days to take down the destructive content.

Targeting one set of companies, however guilty, and exempting a set of equally guilty companies runs counter to protecting kids. All it will do is divert kids to those platforms, which, again, have been linked to the very same harms. Is it really a victory to save a child from Instagram only to herd them into YouTube?

Based on what has unfolded in Arkansas, we can expect a state patchwork to develop where Google is exempt here and Meta is exempt there, leaving loopholes across the nation for kids to feed their addiction. And, meanwhile, at the federal level, Congress deliberates.

Arkansas’s exemptions are not just out of step with other state laws, but also with several bi-partisan federal bills with the same goals. The Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), for instance, makes parental controls and the strongest safeguards the default option for accounts opened by minors. It would also require that the platforms build-in the ability for their most addictive features—recommendation algorithms and autoplay, for instance—to be turned off. It, naturally, applies to all social media companies, no exceptions.

The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act is another bill aimed at giving parents more tools to combat the worst effects of Big Tech on their children. The Act would apply a uniform standard of age verification across the country for all major social media platforms, and sets a minimum age of 13 to use social media apps and would require parental consent for 13 through 17 year-olds. (RELATED: FLEISS And MISRA: Can Elon Musk Save Free Speech On The Internet?)

But Congress is going to need some time to figure all this out.

Until then, we need lawmakers in Arkansas to revisit this bill to fill in this massive loophole it has created. After all, as the governor herself said, the objective is “protecting our kids.” So there’s no reason to give Google and Amazon a pass.

Michael Toscano is executive director of the Institute for Family Studies.

Joel Thayer is the president of the Digital Progress Institute.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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