⚫ A proposal seeks to block minors from social media, without parental consent

⚫ The bill sponsor cites concerns about social media's impact on mental health

⚫ Critics say this idea violates residents' rights

There's a new push to protect New Jersey's youth from the potential dangers lurking on social media platforms.

But critics of the aggressive effort claim it steps on residents' rights and can be particularly harmful to certain demographics.

Newly introduced legislation from Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, tasks social media companies with ensuring that their users are at least 18 years old — whether they're already on the platform or are looking to create an account.

And if it's a minor who wants to sign up or keep their account active, that can't happen unless the social media company receives the express consent from a parent or guardian — and a little bit of money.

"I want to put parents in charge of the child's access to these platforms, which have been shown to cause a lot of harm," Conaway, chair of the Assembly Health Committee, told New Jersey 101.5.

The proposal takes a page from a few other states that have imposed age restrictions on social media and pornographic websites — those restrictions don't take effect until next year.

In May, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a warning that social media can pose a risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of adolescents and children. And authorities in more than 40 states, including New Jersey, recently filed a lawsuit against Meta — the parent company of Facebook and Instagram — for physical and mental harms to youth.

Age verification proposal

Under Conaway's bill, in order to provide express consent to a social media company, a parent or guardian would have to provide a government-issued ID, as well as credit card information.

According to the language of the bill, the card can be charged "a fee of not more than 35 cents" — likely to serve as a signal to adults that their card was used for this reason.

The bill also tasks social media companies with verifying the age of their existing account holders.

Certain "age-gating" practices would have to be put in place in order to ensure that a minor isn't lying about their age, Conaway said.

Pushback on age verification

But age verification laws infringe on the First Amendment rights of youth and adults, critics say.

In an emailed statement to New Jersey, Dillon Resiman, staff attorney for the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said young people rely on social media to participate in their communities, connect with peers, and express themselves

"This law would violate everyone’s constitutional right to speak anonymously and safely engage online, and would especially harm LGBTQ+ youth who rely on online communities for health resources and emotional support," Resiman said.

Beyond age verification, Conaway's bill seeks to limit conversations between minors and adults on social media platforms. Under the measure, direct messaging would be prohibited between a minor and any adult "that is not linked to the account through adding."

The language of the bill notes that entities can be forced to pay thousands of dollars in fines for each violation.

Report a correction 👈 | 👉 Contact our newsroom

Solve these picture puzzles

Convert these pictures/Emoji into the correct responses. These pictures are NOT describing the answer — they're telling you which words and sounds to say. The answers are at the bottom.

Gallery Credit: Dino Flammia

LOOK: Controversial songs from the year you were born

Stacker celebrates history's most boundary-pushing—and thereby controversial—songs from 1930 through today.

Gallery Credit: Stacker

11 Bad Laundry Habits to Break Immediately

Save time, money, and frustration with these simple laundry life hacks. 

Gallery Credit: Danielle Kootman

More From New Jersey 101.5 FM