US judge blocks Ohio law restricting children’s use of social media

By Thomson Reuters Feb 12, 2024 | 3:57 PM

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – A federal judge on Monday prevented Ohio from implementing a new law that requires social media companies, including Meta Platform’s Instagram and ByteDance’s TikTok, to obtain parental consent before allowing children under 16 to use their platforms.

Chief U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley in Columbia agreed with the tech industry trade group NetChoice that the law violated minors’ free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

It marked the latest court decision blocking a state’s law designed to protect young people online as federal and state lawmakers look for ways to address rising concerns about the dangers posed by social media to the mental health of children.

Ohio’s Republican attorney general, Dave Yost, had argued that the state’s Social Media Parental Notification Act, which the legislature passed in July, was a valid measure aimed at protecting minors from damage to their mental health and sexual predators.

But Marbley agreed with NetChoice, whose members include TikTok, Elon Musk’s X, Alphabet’s YouTube, and Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, that the law was “not narrowly tailored to those ends.”

“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,” he wrote.

Monday’s ruling put Ohio’s law on hold indefinitely while the litigation continues after the judge last month issued an order that temporarily blocked it from taking effect on Jan. 15 as scheduled.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, called the ruling disappointing. He cited “overwhelming evidence that social media has a negative effect on the mental health of minors, including increases in depression and suicide-related behavior.”

“Since the federal courts are interpreting federal constitutional law as preventing the state of Ohio from protecting Ohio’s children, then Congress needs to act to protect our country’s children,” he said in a statement.

NetChoice last year won court rulings blocking a similar social media parental consent law in Arkansas and a children’s digital privacy law in California. It is challenging restrictions adopted in Utah as well.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Jonathan Oatis)