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Social media platforms must get direct parental consent for minors under new California law

Angel Russell
Starting on January 1, 2022, social media companies and websites must obtain direct parental consent in order for a minor to open an account

For kids in California, it won't be as easy as clicking and agreeing to the terms and conditions to open an account on social media platforms. Soon, they will have to get direct parental permission, after Central Coast Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham’s bill AB891 was signed into law recently by Governor Gavin Newsom.

Under California law, children cannot lawfully enter into a contract on behalf of someone else. But Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham said despite that, some websites have allowed minors to agree to terms and conditions on behalf of their parents. 

“There’s this giant exception to that in the social media realm," Cunningham said. " And that is happening at the same time that kids are spending more time on screens, and more time interfacing with other people through social media than they ever have in history.”

Right now, if a minor wants to install a social media app like Twitter or Snapchat, there’s a clause that says a parent has consented to them using the app. Kids can click and agree, and the parent may never know.

“This civil code section, AB891, prohibits that type of work around," Cunningham said. "And [this] will force those companies to truly obtain parental consent before they allow people to install their apps.”

Ed Howard with the Senior Counsel of the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego said children may not understand what they are agreeing to when installing apps, and could post something they may regret later as adults. 

“There are almost no longer any mistakes children can make that aren’t irrevocable online," Howard said. "Because what you do online exists forever. It used to be, you could make mistakes, and it wouldn’t haunt you forever. That’s not the case now.”

Cunningham said now that his bill has been signed into law, starting on January 1 2022, websites and social media companies must obtain direct, and not assumed, parental consent in order for a minor to open an account.

“There is a variety of ways they can do it," Cunningham said. "It’s up to them on how they technologically implement parental consent. But they are now barred by law from just sort of letting the kids say that their parent has consented to use.”

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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