Seriously bad bill

Public the loser in social media law

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I admit it: I’m an Arkansas General Assembly junkie. Even though I haven’t been a state legislator for more than a decade, I still watch what my former colleagues are doing.

Every legislative session, I keep an eye on the website. I even read the bills on occasion. Sometimes they come up with a great idea, and I root for it. Sometimes they come up with a bad idea; in that case, I usually just grimace and get a headache.

Sometimes they come up with such a uniquely terrible bill that makes me think they have to be kidding. Unfortunately, with respect to Senate Bill 396–which just zipped through the House and the Senate–they’re perfectly serious.

SB396 is about to create a new duty of registration for every major social media company, and every social media user, in Arkansas. If (for instance) you want to use Facebook or Instagram, you’ll have to provide ID information to the company to prove you’re an adult. On the other hand, if you’re a minor, you’ll have to provide additional information to the company about Mom or Dad in order to show parental consent. If the company fails to perform “reasonable age verification” but allows access anyway, you can sue. In that event, the company is on the hook for $2,500 per person or for actual damages, plus court costs and attorney fees.

In other words, this proposal requires every major social media company to create a gigantic new identification database that will include every one of its users to register (or re-register) electronically. But if you’re worried about privacy, stop worrying: The bill also mandates that a social media company cannot retain any individual information about any user after the applicant is granted access.

Think about what that means. Suppose a parent decides that his or her child has been wrongly granted access to social media and sues under this new law. This creates a bonanza for trial lawyers, because this new law forces the age verifier to eliminate just about any evidence it might ever use to demonstrate that it carried out its duties. I don’t want to say that anyone who sues under this new law is guaranteed to win; it’s just that I don’t quite see how they lose.

I don’t know that the architects of this bill have given much thought to its unintended consequences–such as its burdensome requirement of ID re-registration for everyone for every major social media website, and the cultural pressure it creates to get electronic ID for your kids–but its intended consequences are bad enough.

Read the full article on Arkansas Democrat Gazette.