Iowans younger than 18 would need their parents’ permission before they could have any social media accounts under a bill advancing in the Iowa Legislature.
A House committee advanced House File 712 Monday on a 14-9 vote, sending it to the full House for consideration. Two Republicans, Reps. Megan Jones, R-Sioux Rapids, and Brent Siegrist, R-Council Bluffs, joined Democrats in voting no.
An earlier version of the proposal would have banned anyone younger than 18 from having a social media account under any circumstances.
Here’s what to know about the revised bill.
What would the Iowa House bill on social media do?
Parents would need to give permission for their children 14 to 17 years old before they could use social media.
Iowans 13 and younger would not be allowed to have social media accounts. That mirrors the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which governs what kind of information companies can collect from children online.
Under the Iowa bill, social media companies would not be allowed to collect personal information such as names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, Social Security numbers, online contact information, geolocation information or photos, video or audio of minors who don’t have a parent’s permission.
Social media companies would need “verifiable parental consent” to allow 14- to 17-year-olds to create social media accounts.
The bill’s floor manager, Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, said it’s up to the platform to determine how that’s accomplished, but it could likely be done by providing a driver’s license or other identification.
“They have to make an effort to prove that you are the parent,” Wills said. “Is it going to be 100% perfect? No.”
The Iowa attorney general’s office would have the power to sue social media companies if they violate the law. Companies would be fined $1,000 per violation.
Why do some lawmakers want to restrict kids from using social media?
Republican lawmakers said they’re worried about social media companies collecting data on children and about the effect of social media use on teens’ mental health.
Wills said that right now kids can sign up for social media accounts and their parents might not know if they’re being cyber-bullied or if using the platform is affecting their mental health or body image.
“This way we at least are trying to get that parent to have some skin in the game and understand maybe my child is acting this way because they’re actually being bullied, or maybe something is happening on social media and I need to monitor that,” he said.
Wills said Republicans aren’t trying to stop all use of social media by kids. He pointed to kids that make money by posting videos on YouTube — presumably with their parents’ help.
“We’re trying to actually just add that layer of protection so that parents are aware that their children are on these social media platforms,” he said.
Iowa is not the first state to consider restrictions on social media for kids. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a law last month banning minors from accessing social media apps without parental consent.
Democrats say the Iowa bill could create ‘unintended consequences’
Democrats said the bill poses a number of “unintended consequences” and that its current definition of social media is broad enough that it could include platforms like those used in schools for online assignments.
The bill’s definition of “social media platform” is “an internet site or application that is open to the public, allows a user to create an account and enables users to communicate with other users for the primary purpose of posting information, comments, messages or images.”
The definition excludes internet service providers, email and news sites.
Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, said the bill could even prohibit schools from posting photos or videos of students, such as sharing a picture of the school’s basketball team members after they win a game.
“Honestly, I don’t think that people know exactly what this bill does,” Nielsen said.
Nielsen said there is an argument to be made that social media contributes to some mental health problems, but the opposite can also be true.
“There’s kids that don’t have a supportive community around them in person or where they live, and Facebook or Instagram might be the only place where they find someone who they can talk to and who will accept them and encourage them,” she said. “So I certainly wouldn’t want to take that away.”
Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.