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Ohio budget includes provision to require parental permission for kids to use social media

 A phone screen showing various social media companies
Twin Design
A phone screen showing various social media companies

Ohio’s two year state budget always has things in it that aren’t related to state spending. For instance, the budget unveiled last month by Gov. Mike DeWine includes an idea that other states and even some countries have considered: requiring social media companies to get parents’ permission before kids under 16 can join their platforms.

Under the Social Media Parental Notification Act, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and other social media would have to verify parental permission for kids 16 and under.

Republican Lt. Gov. Jon Husted is pushing this. He said it’s not government overreach – it’s a way to protect kids from social media addiction and disturbing content.

“Everything in your child's life needs parental consent. But in the form of social media, one of the most dangerous threats to their social lives right now, there's nothing. There's no requirement, and we need to fix that," Husted said.

Husted pointed to recent comments from US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy that children under 14 should not use social media. And he notes the death by suicide of a 15-year-old central Ohio boy who was the victim of a scheme to extort money from him in exchange for not posting a nude photo he'd provided to an adult he thought was a teenage girl. But he also said kids are also being bullied and body-shamed, and seeing negative posts about gender transitioning - all of which can be destructive, especially to kids with developing brains.

“When you know a product is harmful, whether it's been cigarettes or something else, we've had to step in and find ways to limit or mitigate the harmful nature of that product," Husted said. "And in this particular case, we're not banning anything. We're just saying parental notification."

The parental permission requirement would include social media and online gaming activities, but would not include online shopping. If a parent or caregiver refuses to comply, the company would have to deny access to the child.

"The state does have enforcement capability on this, which can involve monetary penalties and ultimately could result in the suspension of the service within the state," Husted said. "We hope that none of those kinds of things would ever happen, because we hope the social media companies will come forward and work with us on this to help solve the problem."

A Pew Research study last year showed nearly all teens have smartphones, and 95% of them use YouTube and two-thirds use TikTok. More than half said it would be "difficult" to give up social media.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, said in a statement that reads in part that it has more than 30 online tools to support teens and families, including age verification. There was no response to requests for comment from TikTok or Google, which owns YouTube.

State lawmakers just started reviewing the budget last week, and would have to approve this along with the rest of the spending plan for it to go into effect, which would happen 90 days after the budget is signed into law. Ohio's new fiscal year starts July 1, so the budget must be in place by then.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.