Pa. bill seeking age verification for social media passes state House, moves to Senate

May 9—HARRISBURG — Anyone under age 16 would need parental consent to open a social media account under the terms of a legislative proposal that narrowly passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on Wednesday with bipartisan support.

House members voted 105-95 to approve House Bill 2017 and send it to the state Senate for further consideration. Ten Republicans voted in favor while seven Democrats voted in opposition.

A similar bill introduced in the state Senate cleared a committee in the upper chamber but has remained tabled since late October.

The House bill introduced in February by Rep. Brian Munroe, D-Bucks, would mandate that social media companies employ different age-verification methods to confirm parental consent for opening an account including a phone call or completion of an online form.

Accounts opened by minors without parental consent are to be suspended and parental notification made, according to the bill.

Most data mining would be restricted with exceptions including protecting minors from adult content and making recommendations to age-appropriate content. Provisions on data mining extend to minors under age 18.

The bill attempts to define "hateful conduct" and prohibit it from occurring on social media platforms.

"Hateful conduct is defined as the use of a social media platform to vilify, humiliate, or incite violence against a group or a class of persons on the basis of race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression," a fiscal summary of the bill notes.

Social media companies would be responsible for establishing reporting mechanisms to flag hateful conduct.

However, language has since been stripped that sought to require tech companies to monitor chats between minors for flagged content and subsequently notify parents.

Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania and the ACLU of Pennsylvania each expressed opposition to the bill.

Prior to Wednesday's vote, Munroe explained during floor remarks that the bill was inspired by three teenagers in his district who produced a video about the negative impact social media has on minors. Those teens all helped craft the bill's introductory language.

"This was a cry for help from a generation suffering the brunt of social media's impact," Munroe said.

Munroe said age restrictions aren't uncommon. He pointed to restrictions for drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco, driving a vehicle or accessing movies, music and adult content. The bill on social media is hardly different, he said.

"Time and time again, we've acted in the best interest of children by looking at the exposure to potentially harmful activities and said 'not at that age, not without your parents' OK,'" Munroe said.