Explainer: New Ohio law requires parental consent for minor social media use

New law, challenged by big tech, set to start Jan. 15

On Jan. 15, a new law is scheduled to take effect in Ohio that will compel sites like X, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitch and potentially many other online platforms to ask for a parent’s permission before establishing an account for minors under the age of 16.

With it, Ohio has entered groundswell of states attempting to take on social media in the past year and has become the latest state to find itself embroiled in a legal battle over the government’s regulatory authority.

The law, called the Parental Notification by Social Media Operators Act, will cover nearly all websites in Ohio that allow users to create profiles, interact socially, and create or post content viewable by others. However, the law also states the site has to “populate a list of other users with whom an individual shares or has the ability to share a social connection,” which could be satisfied by simple follower lists or suggestions, contact books, or potentially even rudimentary data collection that nearly all websites perform to sell ads.

There’s uncertainty of the full scope of websites and services covered under that definition. University of Dayton associate professor Art Jipson, an expert on social media, said: “You’re basically talking about pretty much everything online.”

Under his interpretation, it’s possible that even new email accounts could be subject to parental consent.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who championed the law, said it was written with the intent of targeting social media sites and gaming platforms, but told this news organization that it would probably be easier to list off the sites that aren’t included under the law (e-commerce merchants, news publications and a handful of others) than those that are. He said ultimately website operators would have to read the law and decipher for themselves whether they are compelled to follow it.

Tech companies lawsuit

The broad and ambiguous definition of a social media operator was one of the main focuses of a lawsuit filed by a tech industry association last week seeking for the law to be thrown out. NetChoice, representing Meta, Google, X, Snapchat, TikTok and many other industry leaders, claimed that the regulation is unconstitutional and inherently problematic for privacy and security reasons.

For the sites that are found to be within the regulation’s purview, a stricter onus will be placed on them to verify the the age of new users — a burden that will likely lead social media sites and gaming platforms, along with many other online platforms, to require new users to upload photos or scans of government-issued IDs in order to verify the user’s age.

“Forcing tech companies to host this sensitive data about all users — adults and children — will make them a prime target for cyber criminals and predators,” NetChoice wrote on X, adding that the association successfully toppled similar legislation in California and Arkansas.

Husted, a Republican who spearheaded the regulation with the belief that social media operators use intentionally addictive algorithms to target children and encourage excessive screen time, called NetChoice’s attempt to upend the law cowardly and predictable.



“Research has been very clear about what spending excessive time on these platforms is doing to our kids; they are struggling in school, being bullied, their sleep is being disturbed, they are dealing with body image issues, and much more,” wrote Husted. “They need to drop this lawsuit so that we can move forward.”

‘Technology dependency’

Before the lawsuit, Husted told this news organization that he thinks people have intuitively known about the danger of social media use for a long time, but that the research and data simply wasn’t there to warrant regulations like this.

“Understand, we’ve only been in this smart phone era for around a decade, so we’re only now seeing the impact of it on a generation of children, and the experiment is not going well,” Husted said.

For the most part, mental health professionals in the region agree with the lieutenant governor’s assessment of the negative outcomes spawned from excessive social media use in minors. However, in interviews with this news organization, those experts were also quick to point out the benefits of social media, which offers plenty of space for people to dive into new interests, make new friends and find a sense of belonging.

In the mental health field, an addiction to social media or gaming is referred to as “technology dependency,” and it’s an issue that public health officials and adolescent mental health experts say is a growing concern.

Colleen Oakes, senior program coordinator of Montgomery County ADAMHS board’s prevention & early intervention services, said the board sees “tons” of technology dependents across all age ranges. She said those individuals’ experience can be likened to some of the responses seen in substance abuse addictions.

Oakes said trivial things on social media (e.g. getting a like, a new follower, or seeing something engaging) triggers a dopamine release in the brain and makes people feel good.

“When we start to use social media too much, our brain starts to really crave that dopamine rush and then we feel really lost if we don’t have that,” Oakes said. “We can know that those things don’t really translate into real life, but it still gives us that validation and that reward in the moment, which makes our brain want it more and more.”

Social media and schools, life

Stephanie Stratton, program director for South Community Behavioral Health, which has counselors in many schools across the region, told this news organization that technology dependency has become a scourge in local classrooms, negatively impacting students’ education, mental health and verbal communication skills.

“Staff have also seen a rise in reported cyber bullying, which has contributed to a rise in mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and violence within the schools,” Stratton said. “Social media has also impacted self-esteem in students due to the pressures to fit in not only at school, but also on social media platforms.

Dr. Kelly Blankenship, division chief of psychiatry at Dayton Children’s Hospital, said these ill effects are more likely to show up in kids who are already depressed or anxious. She said the instinct on social media is to compare yourself to others and, given that most people project their best life while hiding their own negatives, that comparison often leaves people feeling worse about themselves.

Perhaps counterintuitively, Blankenship said most adolescents report that they genuinely enjoy social interactions online and noted that much of what younger generations experience in life — from school to work to friendships to romance — will likely happen online.

“We know that social media use can be dangerous. I guess the way I kind of look at it is that it’s just becoming so prevalent that I think, instead of trying to do away with it, we need to look at how to make it healthy for kids and adolescents,” Blankenship said.

‘We’ll see what they’ll actually do’

Social media companies have made their own calls for government regulation when it comes to children’s social media use. In November, Meta’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis wrote a blog post, later circulated by the company’s marketing team, in support of a federal regulation that would require app stores — not the platforms — to obtain parental consent before a child under 16 can download an app.

Davis wrote that centralizing the parental consent burden would be a safer solution and would negate the need for a parent to upload their potentially sensitive information onto myriad apps. However, she did not offer a solution for instances when a minor under 16 signs up for a new account online.

Husted told this news organization that he met with a number of social media sites throughout the process of getting the regulation to law. He said most were resistant before weighing in to ensure that they were being treated the same under the law as their competitors.

“What we’ve seen in other states is even though they say the nice things about how they really wanna be cooperative, they don’t do the right things because they have their industry trade groups to file lawsuits to get the courts to prohibit these laws from going into effect. So, we’ll see what they actually do in Ohio,” Husted said before Friday’s lawsuit.

Law’s other provisions

In addition to establishing parental initial consent to create profiles for children under 16, the law also compels these sites to notify a parent that the account has been created and provide parents with platform-specific tools to moderate or censor the content their child comes across.

Husted noted that this power is entirely optional for parents, but he said he hoped the law encouraged more guardians to take a more guiding role in their child’s internet habits.

“If parents want to sign them up, turn a blind eye to it and never check in again, parents can do that,” the lieutenant governor said. “But I don’t think most parents want that. I think most parents understand how harmful this is to their children. They would like an easier way to be in control of that digital life.”

The law also maintains that parents can revoke their consent at any time, in which case the site operator would be compelled to delete the child’s account. If a platform should fail to delete an account at a parent’s behest within 30 days, the parent can file a complaint with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which can then use the law as a means to sue.

Platform operators found to be in violation of the law can be fined for $1,000 a day for the first 60 days of infraction; $5,000 each day for the following 30 days; and $10,000 a day for any subsequent day of violation.

Follow DDN statehouse reporter Avery Kreemer on X or reach out to him at Avery.Kreemer@coxinc.com or at 614-981-1422.

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