Federal Judge Strikes Down Ohio Social Media Law Aimed at Children

Ohio social media law struck down in federal court

There is a lot of talk these days about social media use and its effects on children. It seems that states are proposing and passing laws restricting social media left and right, with California, Texas, and New York, among others, passing social media-related laws last year. Another state, Ohio, attempted to enact a strict law to keep children off of social media without parental consent, and a United States federal judge struck it down this week.

As Reuters reports, Chief U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley sided with tech industry trade group NetChoice, ruling that Ohio’s Social Media Parental Notification Act, which was passed by the state’s legislature last July, violated minors’ free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution’s famous First Amendment.

NetChoice’s members include social media and technology giants like TikTok, X, Alphabet (Google), YouTube, and Meta.

Some of these companies were represented in a recent United States Congressional hearing concerning child safety. Meta co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, X’s CEO Linda Yaccarino, and TikTok CEO Shou Chew were among the tech executives grilled by lawmakers who sought to score political points in a crucial election cycle.

This is not the first federal court ruling to knock back a state’s attempts to restrict children’s access to social media, and it is unlikely to be the last, as many states work to take a hardline stance against social media use by children.

“Foreclosing minors under sixteen from accessing all content on websites that the [Social Media Parental Notification] Act purports to cover, absent affirmative parental consent, is a breathtakingly blunt instrument for reducing social media’s harm to children,” Judge Marbley wrote in his ruling.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R), disgruntled by the federal court’s decision, said that there’s “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 constitution laws as preventing the state of Ohio from protecting Ohio’s children, then Congress needs to act to protect our country’s children,” DeWine said in an official statement.

There are significant concerns that social media use is addictive and dangerous, especially for children, and lawmakers are struggling to find ways to limit the potential harm, or at least find ways that survive NetChoice.

“We appreciate the district court’s thoughtful opinion upholding the First Amendment and decision to prevent regulators from violating the free speech and online privacy rights of Ohioans and their kids as our case proceeds,” says Chris Marchese, Director of the NetChoice Litigation Center, of Judge Marbley’s ruling. “This is the fourth ruling NetChoice has obtained, demonstrating that this law and others like it in California and Arkansas not only violate constitutional rights, but if enacted, would fail to achieve the state’s goal of protecting kids online. We look forward to seeing these laws permanently struck down and online speech and privacy fully protected across America.”

NetChoice has won similar legal battles concerning California’s children’s digital privacy legislation and a social media parental consent law in Arkansas. NetChoice is currently challenging restrictions passed in Utah.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.