Louisiana passed a law this year that is a foolhardy attempt by one state to regulate the Internet. By doing so, the state’s lawmakers threaten the First Amendment rights of adult publishers and readers, as well as minors, because it censors valuable speech. And despite these troubling impacts, the law is totally ineffective in its stated purpose — protecting minors from seeing “harmful” material online.
The law makes it a crime to publish anything on the Internet that could be deemed “harmful to minors” without verifying the age of everyone who wants to see it. If you are in Louisiana, and publish anything on the Internet, you have to either make sure that none of that content could be considered harmful to a minor of any age — a high bar, considering a lot of constitutionally protected speech might not be fit for an 8-year-old — or install an age-verification screen asking if the viewer is 18 or over before allowing access.
If you don’t, it’s a crime.
It is like a vaguer, more expansive, and more harmful version of COPPA. Except instead of applying just to data collection this covers all Internet content. Could the NYRA website be considered “harmful material”? I’m sure someone could make that argument. Just like someone could make that argument about Catcher in the Rye and other classics of literature. Will NYRA be complying with this law? Heck no!
Thankfully the ACLU is suing to overturn this law. Since it is similar (and worse) than the failed COPA law, we don’t expect this law to last. But it remains a reminder of how ready ageist politicians are to censor content for youth.