Arkansas bill puts youth safety and privacy in jeopardy

By Maria Spencer:

The Arkansas Consumer Safety Division website includes social networking tips that warn its citizens about improper use of social media. It reads, “Although social networking sites can be valuable resources … be careful when using them because the information you post online can be used to make you a victim.” However, a bill being considered by the Arkansas State Senate (HB 1087) could impact the safety and privacy of Arkansas youth and young adults.

Last month, the Arkansas House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill that requires employees or potential employees of certain organizations and institutions (primarily youth focused) to “friend” their employer on all their social media accounts. For example, an employee with a Facebook account could be required to “friend” their boss, who can then monitor the employee’s posts.

I am sure the bill’s supporters have the best of intentions. They believe this action would protect youth. They also feel that an employer has a right to know about any content that may be deemed slanderous to the business or institution. Unfortunately this proposed law violates people’s privacy and safety rights. It is also contradictory to accepted safety practices for using social media, which advise youth and parents to be careful about whom to follow or friend on social media.

It should be noted that current law allows businesses to investigate specific allegations of illegal activity or work-related misconduct as well as to conduct background checks. It also reinforces the need for background checks of employees and volunteers working with youth, an idea supported by most child safety organizations, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The final tagline of the Arkansas Consumer Safety Division social networking tips page reads, “When it comes to your Internet safety, we’ve got your back, Arkansas.” I sincerely hope that the Arkansas State Senate rejects this proposal and continues to “have the back” of some of its most vulnerable residents, its youth and young people.

Maria Spencer (@CSafelyPolicyMS), ConnectSafely’s Washington, D.C.-based policy director, has over fifteen years of public policy and advocacy experience representing organizations including the American Heart Association, the Power Mobility Coalition, the American Society for Health System Pharmacists (ASHP), the National Marrow Donor Program and – prior to joining ConnectSafely, as the director of federal affairs for the Arthritis Foundation.