- Lawmakers plan to amend the bill to allow teens to use social media with parental consent
- Does LinkedIn count as social media? Does Amazon? Groups say the bill’s definitions are too broad
- Republican calls the bill ‘heavy-handed,’ Democrat says it’s ‘nonsensical’
Iowa Republican lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban anyone under 18 from having a social media account.
Two lawmakers agreed to advance the bill, House File 526, Thursday morning after a brief subcommittee meeting, but they acknowledged it would have to change.
GOP lawmakers say they’re worried about social media companies collecting data on children and about data that show negative effects from social media on the mental health of children and teenagers.
“I think that’s part of this overall conversation when it comes to children’s mental health,” House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, told reporters Thursday.
Last week, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a law banning minors from accessing social media apps without the consent of a parent.
Lawmakers plan to amend the bill to allow teens to use social media with parental consent
Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, said he’s interested in amending Iowa’s bill to require parental consent, rather than being a total ban for minors.
“We’re going to bring back the parents into this conversation,” Wills said, “and say that if a parent approves of a 16-year-old or a 14-year-old or whatever having a social media platform, then that would be up to the parent’s right to say yes or no to.”
As currently written, the bill would ban anyone under 18 years old from having a social media account and assess a $1,000 penalty to a social media company for each violation. The Iowa attorney general could sue companies for violating the policy.
Wills said his amendment is intended to mirror the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which governs what kind of information companies can collect from children online. He said that would mean children under 13 couldn’t have social media accounts and teens under 18 couldn’t sign up for an account unless they have a parent’s permission.
The bill would define a social media company as a site that allows users to create profiles and provide information about themselves that is accessible to the public or to other users, and to communicate with other users.
Does LinkedIn count as social media? Does Amazon? Groups say the bill’s definitions are too broad
At Thursday’s subcommittee, several lobbyists for school organizations and tech companies spoke against the bill or raised concerns that its definitions are too broad and could unintentionally encompass more sites than popular social media platforms.
Christopher Rants, a lobbyist for Amazon, said the bill could loop in his client since users create profiles to buy products and leave reviews.
“Most commerce sites, you create profiles,” he said. “It allows for reviews. So I as a customer get to say, ‘Hey I like those shoes’, or, ‘Those shoes are terrible.’ I’m creating a profile of myself and I’m sharing information about myself and according to this definition that is now a social media site.”
Jon Murphy, a lobbyist for Microsoft, said he’d like to see the bill make clear that job search platforms like LinkedIn are not covered by the prohibition.
“As we seek to get younger people engaged in the workforce, one of the ways they’re going to find and get and keep those jobs are to be able to find them online,” Murphy said.
Matt McKinney, a lobbyist for Google, said the company has many tools to help ensure that children aren’t accessing certain content and have protections when they’re online.
“Those are all enabled by allowing accounts to exist,” McKinney said.
Republican lawmakers said they are open to changing the language of the bill to avoid unintended consequences.
“We’re open to tightening the language to make sure that the intent is there,” said Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. “The original bill was put out to start a conversation. Now we’re focusing on what the actual language should look like and that would include potentially changing definitions to narrow the scope.”
Republican calls the bill ‘heavy-handed,’ Democrat says it’s ‘nonsensical’
One of the Republicans who agreed to move the bill forward Thursday said he did so “with a lot of reservations.”
“I’m not particularly excited about this bill,” said Rep. Phil Thompson, R-Boone. “I do think it’s a little heavy-handed.”
Still, Thompson agreed to move the bill forward to continue the conversation about the effects of social media on kids’ mental health.
House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said social media can be a toxic environment for kids, but it can also allow them to find community. She said the Republican bill doesn’t reflect that nuance.
“When we’re taking broad strokes like banning things like that I think that we’re not truly looking at what the real problems are,” she told reporters Thursday. “So I want to make sure that instead of just shutting something off and saying now we’ve fixed the problem we’re looking more broadly at what the problems and opportunities are.”
Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, told reporters that Democrats are open to thoughtfully considering the impact of social media on kids, but he disagrees with Republicans’ approach.
“I don’t think it’s a partisan view that there are some very real challenges with social media, especially its impact on minors. And not just social media but I would also say phones generally,” he said. “But I do think that the idea that you’re just going to do a blanket ban is nonsensical.”
Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.