Federal court halts Ohio social media parental consent law

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

An Ohio law set to go into effect Jan. 15 to regulate social media access for children under 16 is paused as a result of a temporary restraining order granted Tuesday by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

With the federal court’s first ruling in NetChoice LLC v. Dave Yost, Ohio’s Parental Notification by Social Media Operators Act will be delayed until further notice.

The law would, among other things, legally obligate a broad range of online platforms to verify the age of new users in Ohio. In order to establish an account for users under 16 years old, the platform would have to obtain parental consent and then provide parental notification of the account’s creation.

The law would also give parents the absolute power to request that the platform delete their child’s account; the platform would be compelled to comply.

The regulation was championed by Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who believes it’s an essential measure to curb the negative effects of excessive social media use in minors and a significant step toward getting parents active in their children’s “digital lives.”

Despite the law being aimed at social media and gaming platforms specifically, it’s unclear just how many sites in Ohio would be compelled to follow the law due to a broad and somewhat ambiguous definition of what a “social media operator” actually is.

Tuesday’s ruling was an early victory for NetChoice, a tech trade association who challenged the law on behalf of X, Meta, TikTok, Snapchat, Google and other industry powerhouses which argued that the law violates free speech principles of both platforms and users and that the state, and the law itself, did not do enough to give fair notice of which sites would be impacted.

In his written opinion, Chief United States District Judge Algenon L. Marbley wrote that NetChoice’s concerns were founded and that the association has the legal standing to challenge the law.

He noted that, if it were enacted on Jan. 15, Ohio’s social media law would bring financial harm to social media operators, which would have to spend significantly in order to comply with the law.

He also raised concerns with its broad definition of what actually constitutes a “social media operator,” saying that the regulation’s “capacious and subjective language practically invites arbitrary application of the law.”

Marbley opined that the state of Ohio will have a hard time proving that the regulation is “narrowly tailored” to address the problem of social media’s harms — a burden the state must prove in order to pass laws that functionally impact free speech.

“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 approach is an untargeted one, as parents must only give one-time approval for the creation of an account, and parents and platforms are otherwise not required to protect against any of the specific dangers that social media might pose.”

The court-issued temporary restraining order drew ire from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Husted on Tuesday.

“I’m very disappointed in today’s ruling,” Husted said in news release. “The big-tech companies behind this lawsuit were included in the legislative process to make sure the law was clear and easy to implement, but now they claim the law is unclear. They were disingenuous participants in the process and have no interest in protecting children.”

The court will now deliberate a preliminary injunction, which would officially stave off the law until the court decides whether it’s constitutional. That hearing is set to begin Feb. 7.

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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