Gov. Kemp can help keep our children safe from online pornography

A bill that passed the legislature would require age verification.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp addresses the House of Representatives at the Capitol in Atlanta on Sine Die, the last day of the legislative session, March 28, 2024. (Arvin Temkar/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp addresses the House of Representatives at the Capitol in Atlanta on Sine Die, the last day of the legislative session, March 28, 2024. (Arvin Temkar/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

The Georgia State legislature passed a measure that seeks to protect the well-being and online safety of every one of Georgia’s kids. Now, the governor should sign it.

Nearly 40 percent of children between the ages of 9 and 11 have been exposed to pornography, and that statistic doubles for 12- to 17-year-olds. That’s why Georgia’s House and Senate recently approved a bill that requires pornography websites to verify their users are 18 or older before allowing them onto their sites. The bill recently passed the House and Senate and is pending the governor’s signature.

House Bill 910 requires pornography websites to verify that a user is at least 18 through a commercial age verification system that includes, but is not limited to, submission of a government-issued identification or a digitized identification card. Before the final passage, H.B. 910 was merged with Senate Bill 351, which also requires age verification for social media.

To better understand how this bill would work in practice and the privacy measures taken, look to Louisiana, which was the first state to enforce age verification for pornography websites. Since then, Arkansas, Virginia, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Texas and Utah have each implemented similar laws. Many are hopeful that Georgia will be the next.

Louisiana has LA Wallet, a mobile application that contains a digital credential of a state-issued identification such as a driver’s license. The mobile application was developed by a third-party software developer. LA Wallet serves as the conduit between Louisiana’s Office of Motor Vehicles and the website requesting age verification.

Annie Chestnut Tutor

Credit: handout

icon to expand image

Credit: handout

When someone wants to go on an adult-oriented website, he or she shares only the minimally necessary information the website needs to approve access, which, in this case, is the person’s coarse age (the age given within a large range of ages, for example, “under 18,” “over 18,” etc.). The website requests a temporary anonymized code, similar to dual authentication methods commonly used by banks and online merchants, that the user enters into his or her LA Wallet app. The app notifies the user which info the website needs (again, coarse age), and the user approves before any information is shared. Upon user approval, the app sends the coarse age to the website, and if the user is 18 or older, the website grants the user access. If the user is under 18, then he or she is denied access.

Why does Georgia need this legislation? According to pornography website Pornhub’s annual year in review, in 2008, only 1 percent of porn users viewed porn from their phone, but in 2023, 91 percent viewed it from their phone. Another recent report revealed that one in five mobile searches is related to porn. Now for the statistics that really make a compelling case for age verification: Roughly 80 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 17 have come across pornography, and more than 50 percent seek it out.

This ease of access is facilitated by kids’ increasing ownership of personal devices. Twenty percent of 8-year-olds have smartphones, 53 percent of kids have a smartphone by the age of 11, and 69 percent have one by age 12. The problem is not only that kids have phones; it’s also that the amount of pornographic content has exploded. In 2010, more than 100,000 porn videos were uploaded to Pornhub, but by 2018, 5 million were uploaded.

This content is not only on porn websites. Social media is flooded with accounts — bot, spam and legitimate — with pornographic content in effort to entice users to their external content. Among kids ages 13 to 17, 58 percent use TikTok, 51 percent use Snapchat, 47 percent use Instagram, and 19 percent use Facebook. These platforms’ search bars act as internet browsers that enable users to find content, and the platforms are not sufficient at preventing or eliminating obscene content.

Requiring age verification on porn websites will not prevent social media users from seeing this content on social media platforms, but it will place roadblocks for children who click these links on social media and other websites. For those of you like me who are troubled by the harms of pornography for any age, take rest in the fact that traffic to Pornhub dropped 80 percent in Louisiana after its law went into effect.

Last month, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Texas’s law that requires age verification on pornography websites. This decision is a victory for advocates for age verification, concerned parents and, of course, children. More important, it clears the way for other states, including Georgia, to enforce similar legislation.

Annie Chestnut Tutor is a policy analyst for the Tech Policy Center at the Heritage Foundation.