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DeWine, Husted urge Ohio lawmakers to keep social media parental consent safeguards in budget




Photo by Adem AY on Unsplash

One of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s biggest asks in this year’s budget proposal was funding for mental health. House and Senate lawmakers are wrestling over the dollar figure ahead of conference committee negotiations. The House wants to cut it back significantly while the Senate agreed to DeWine’s number.

But amid the wrangling over dollars and cents, the DeWine administration is throwing its weight behind a related policy initiative. What DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted term the Social Media Parental Notification Act would require networks get parental consent before allowing kids 16 and under on their platforms.

“We see how technology can solve all kinds of health issues and create efficiencies and improve our lives, but this is one area where we got it wrong,” Husted explained. “We’ve been conducting an experiment on our children that we know is failing and we need to act.”

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal)

How it works

Husted has taken the lead on crafting the legislation in consultation with social media companies. The proposal places the burden of verifying a user’s age on the company but it gives them flexibility in determining their method for doing so.

According to Husted, the available verification systems include e-sign, credit card or government ID, as well as calling a toll-free number or joining an online video conference. In a seeming acknowledgement that kids will try to circumvent the restrictions, the measure directs companies to send written confirmation after a parent or guardian consents.

Social Media Parental Notification Act guidance (from the office of Lt. Governor Jon Husted)

Husted said the legislation, “forc(es) the social media companies to have a strategy. They have liability if they don’t have the proper checks and balances in signing up someone who’s under the age of 16. And the provisions in here we think are strong, reasonable, and that there are no easy ways around it.”

Referencing a Surgeon General’s report, Husted argued there’s an urgent need for safeguards.

“It’s leading to the deaths of young people,” he said. “We know algorithms that are in many of these social media apps are targeting children to addict them to these platforms. That’s what they do. Its designed to be addictive.”

Despite optimism for their proposal, DeWine argued that the U.S. Congress should act as well, to address what he called a “mental health crisis.”

“It is of national significance. It would seem to me it would be very appropriate for the Congress to hold hearings on this and then for the Congress to take action.”

State by state

Until then, states will have to decide on their own whether they want to wade into the issue. Ohio’s proposal, built on age verification, looks a lot like a measure signed into law in Utah earlier this year. That law goes further, however, by imposing an overnight curfew and giving parents access to their child’s messages.

California has taken a different approach by adopting a law modeled on the United Kingdom’s Age Appropriate Design Code. The California law, slated to take effect in 2024, places less emphasis on age verification — companies must have a “reasonable level of certainty” — and much and more on the company’s privacy settings and use of data. An internet industry group called NetChoice is challenging California’s law in court.

Husted chalked up Ohio’s approach to the art of the possible.

“This is something that’s pretty clear for everybody to understand,” he said of parental consent. “I’ve been speaker the (Ohio) House and been in the General Assembly. I know the limits of what we can do fast and what we can’t do fast. And this is something that I believe that we can have done immediately.”

Husted also argued there are benefits that come from multiple states pursuing their own social media policies. Pretty soon, he suggested, the companies themselves may be “begging” Congress to give them one uniform standard.

Gov. Mike DeWine speaking a press conference for the Social Media Parental Notification Act. (Photo by Nick Evans, OCJ.)

Trump indictment

In addition to urging lawmakers to keep his social media provisions in the budget, DeWine took several other questions.

He downplayed ongoing budget disagreements, noting in past cycles his administration has “achieved 97-98% of what we asked.” On the Senate paring back his child care proposals specifically, DeWine noted youth policy has been one of the central focuses of his entire career.

“We have a very great focus in our budget on children in many respects.” DeWine said. “Each part of that is very, very important. I hope that by the time we’re done with this process, the vast majority of things that we’ve asked for for children in the state of Ohio remain in the budget.”

DeWine joked “it’s taken a long time for somebody to ask that, I’m shocked,” when questioned about the indictment of former president Donald Trump for allegedly mishandling classified documents.

“These are very serious charges,” DeWine said. “Again, I have faith in the judicial system. It will work out. Justice will be done.”

“I have not endorsed anybody for president yet,” he concluded.

This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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