Mississippi’s new internet safety act comes under attack from powerful trade association

A trade association with members like Google and X filed a federal lawsuit to block the state’s new bipartisan internet safety law.

The Walker Montgomery Protecting Children Online Act, or House Bill 1126, requires social media services to verify the ages of their users and bans digitally-produced or modified images of child pornography. The bill is named after Walker Montgomery, a Starkville teen who took his own life after being the victim of a sextortion scheme.

Under the new law, minors cannot sign up for social media websites without their parent’s permission. Social media sites cannot advertise “harmful material” to minors or collect, sell or share their personal information.

The law takes effect July 1.

Last week, trade association NetChoice filed a lawsuit in federal court against the state to block it. In a press release, NetChoice called the new law a violation of Mississippians’ privacy and freedom of speech. They warned that the bill would open the door for censorship and put users’ personal information at risk.

“Parents and guardians are best situated to control their family’s online presence. HB 1126 usurps the parental role and seizes it for the State,” the lawsuit reads.

NetChoice is a trade association of tech companies that advocates for free speech and expression on the internet. It is a major lobbyist against government regulation of social media. Its members include major online companies such as Etsy, X and Google.

Walker Montgomery’s story inspired Jilil Ford, R-Madison, Fabian Nelson, D-Jackson, and Larry Byrd, R-Petal, to work on the bipartisan bill.

Nelson did not comment on the lawsuit, but defended the bill. “Our motivation behind this legislation was not to infringe upon anyone’s rights. Our motivation with this legislation was to protect our children,” he said.

Nelson emphasized the need for legislation that keeps up with technological advancements. He was also personally touched as a father of three by Montgomery’s story.

“Sitting quietly while things like this happen makes us worse than the perpetrators,” he said.

Mississippi is one of several states to pass a law requiring social media users to verify their ages. NetChoice launched lawsuits across the country opposing them in the name of preserving freedom of speech.

American Civil Liberties Union Staff Attorney Vera Feilman was also critical of the law, saying, “Such age-verification laws rob users of anonymity, pose privacy and security risks, and could be used to block some people from being able to use social media at all.”

The ACLU filed an amicus brief supporting NetChioice’s lawsuit in Arkansas over a similar bill.