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Ohio kids under 16 need parental okay for social media use under new law in effect in January

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A Ohio law will go into effect in January that requires social media companies such as TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and others to get verified permission from parents of kids 16 years old and younger before allowing them to join that platform. The Social Media Parental Notification Act was passed as part of Ohio’s two-year state budget last summer.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, a Republican, pushed for the new law. He said it’s not a case of government overreach.

“In this particular case, we are not banning anything,” Husted said. “We are just saying parental notification [is needed].”

Husted said the law is a way to protect kids from social media addiction and harmful, disturbing content that can be on the platforms.

“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.

Is social media harmful for kids?

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a warningearlier this year, saying children under 14 should not use social media. Husted said social media played a role in 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. And there are many documented cases of kids being bullied or body-shamed.

The situation can also be harmful when children see negative posts about gender transitioning. According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the second leading cause of death among LGBTQ youth 10 to 14 years old and the third leading cause for people aged 15-24.

Under this new law, the parental permission requirement would include social media and online gaming activities, but would not include online shopping. Without verifiable consent from a parent or caregiver, the social media company would have to deny access to the child.

Social media is fast becoming part of the fabric of the lives of children and young adults. A Pew Research study last year showed nearly all teens have smartphones and 95% of them use YouTube and two-thirds use TikTok. And more than half of those surveyed for that study said it would be "difficult" to give up social media.

Congress has held hearings on the damaging effects of social media, especially on children with developing brains. Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate tackled the subject.

The parent company of Facebook and Instagram, Meta, said in a statement that reads in part that it has more than 30 online tools to support teens and families, including age verification. TikTok and YouTube, along with Google, the company that owns YouTube, did not respond to requests for comment about the new law.

This story has been revised to note the new law does not go into effect on Jan. 1, but will be in effect by Jan. 15.

Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.