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A judge has blocked enforcement of an Ohio law limiting kids’ use of social media during litigation

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A federal judge extended a block on enforcement Monday of an Ohio law that would require children under 16 to get parental consent to use social media apps as a legal challenge proceeds.

U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley's decision to grant a preliminary injunction prevents the law from taking effect while a lawsuit filed earlier this month by NetChoice winds its way through court. NetChoice is a trade group representing TikTok, Snapchat, Meta and other major tech companies. The group is fighting the law as overly broad, vague and an unconstitutional impediment to free speech.

The law, originally was set to take effect Jan. 15 and is similar to ones enacted in other states — including in California and Arkansas, where NetChoice has won lawsuits.

In his decision, Marbley said NetChoice is likely to prevail on its First Amendment speech freedom arguments.

“There is no indication that the State disfavors the sort of content designed to appeal to children — cartoons and the like,” he wrote. “‘Websites that children might access’ is not a topic or subject matter. Indeed, even though covered platforms contain some subject matter likely to appeal to children, most also contain subject matter ‘as diverse as human thought.’”

The law would require companies to get parental permission for social media and gaming apps and to provide their privacy guidelines so families know what content would be censored or moderated on their child's profile.

The Social Media Parental Notification Act was part of an $86.1 billion state budget bill that Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law in July. The administration pushed the measure as a way to protect children’s mental health, with Republican Lt. Gov. Jon Husted saying at the time that social media was “intentionally addictive” and harmful to kids.

Following Monday's decision, Husted said the state was evaluating its next steps.

“It’s disappointing, but it will not deter us from our responsibility to protect children from exploitative social media algorithms that are causing a crisis of depression, suicide, bullying, and sexual exploitation among our children," he said in a statement. “These companies could solve this problem without passing new laws, but they refuse to do so. Because social media companies will not be responsible, we must hold them accountable.”

But Marbley pointed out that the Ohio law is not structured to prevent children from exploring the internet once they’ve received parental permission, and it does not seem to attempt to limit individual social media features — such as “infinite scrolling” — that have been cited as the most detrimental.

“The approach is an untargeted one, as parents must only give one-time approval for the creation of an account, and parents and platforms are otherwise not required to protect against any of the specific dangers that social media might pose,” he said.

The judge also called it “eyebrow-raising” that the act makes an exception for children to access “established” and “widely recognized” news media outlets without defining what that means, and prohibits kids from accessing product reviews but not reviews for services or art.

NetChoice filed suit in January against state Attorney General Dave Yost in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Marbley issued a temporary injunction shortly after.