### Effective Parenting Trumps Nanny State Social Media Mandates

One of the fundamental principles of American conservatism, which has undergone a transformation with the rise of the Make America Great Again movement reshaping the Republican Party, is the belief that individuals, rather than government authorities, are best equipped to oversee their own lives and nurture their families. While social conservatism has historically exhibited authoritarian tendencies, it has been the progressives who typically advocate for what is commonly referred to as the Nanny State.

The concept of the Nanny State, as elucidated in a 2018 BBC article, entails governmental interventions like mandating calorie information on restaurant menus in England or prohibiting energy drinks for individuals under 18. These regulatory practices, although originating in Britain, are widespread in the United States, particularly in California. Numerous recent policies exemplify this trend, all of which intrude into our daily lives under the guise of “assistance” or “betterment.”

Many of these regulations, ranging from bans on single-use plastic bags and oversized sugary beverages to restrictions on trans fats and e-cigarettes, have minimal impact on public health or the environment. There are always loopholes that render these mandates ineffective. The term “Nanny State” aptly captures the image of an admonishing caretaker determined to strip away our simple pleasures.

Interestingly, conservatives are now challenging liberals in this arena. Legislators in Republican-led Western states are enacting laws that treat adults as though they are incapable children, imposing a slew of largely unnecessary regulations purportedly to shield minors from online indecency and other harmful content. The universal desire to protect children makes it challenging to oppose such laws, even when they impose constraints on everyone.

The recent wave of legislation commenced in Utah, where a 2021 law mandates that all new cell phones and tablets sold or activated in the state must be equipped with filters to block “harmful material for minors.” Similar measures have been adopted by lawmakers in other like-minded states, contingent upon approval from five additional states. Although the specifics of the bills vary, they all necessitate some form of age verification to deactivate the filter.

It is evidently contradictory for ostensibly free-market advocates to enforce intrusive business regulations. Manufacturers cannot always predict where their products will be distributed or activated. Following California’s progressive model, conservative legislatures are striving to establish a de facto national standard through their legislative power. However, these proposals pose more significant issues, including constitutional and privacy concerns.

If enacted, these laws are likely to face legal challenges in federal courts. Previous rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court have underscored the importance of legislatures adopting the least intrusive means to limit access to websites. By imposing content filters on all devices, these efforts adopt a heavy-handed approach that assumes parents are incapable of safeguarding their children.

In reality, parents have access to a plethora of tools to protect their children, including existing filters and voluntary verification processes provided by various platforms. Imposing a blanket requirement, as argued by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, creates a false sense of security and impedes market innovation by enforcing a uniform standard.

Moreover, there is a valid concern regarding the slippery slope of such regulations. Should these laws be upheld by the courts, one can only speculate on the potential future mandates lawmakers might propose. For instance, mandated filters to suppress “climate-change denialism” or “hate speech” could be on the horizon. Conservative proponents of such measures should exercise caution, as they might inadvertently invite unintended consequences.

The requirement for age verification in these bills presents its own set of challenges. Users can easily falsify their age, rendering self-reporting ineffective, while demanding official identification poses logistical burdens for businesses and raises privacy concerns. While age verification may be justified for explicit adult content websites, applying it universally to all apps and websites raises significant reservations about sharing personal information with tech companies.

Furthermore, the scope of device-filter laws is limited to cellphones and tablets, leaving other devices like laptops, desktops, and game consoles unaffected. Each child is unique, and these filters risk blocking legitimate educational content. Reflecting on personal experiences, the challenges faced by a child with a specific interest, such as agriculture, in accessing relevant information underscore the importance of parental involvement over governmental oversight.