Mississippi legislation seeks to protect children, teens from online predators | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

The loss of Walker Montgomery has led to legislation adding protections for minors against online predators.

Both the Walker Montgomery Protecting Children Online Act and Walker’s Law were adopted in the Mississippi House and Senate on Wednesday. The bills now head to the Governor for his final stamp of approval.

The Walker Montgomery Protecting Children Online Act requires social media platforms to make reasonable efforts to prevent or mitigate children’s exposure to potentially harmful content while using the platforms.

“The truth is that even the most diligent of parents can use help protecting their children online, and it’s time that these platforms start prioritizing our children’s safety,” said State Representative Jill Ford (R), the bill’s author.

The final conference report removed the original reverse repealer and provided that digital service providers who offer career development opportunities are not subject to the provisions. Rep. Ford said the language was modified to mirror Texas law and the Kids Online Safety Act.

When presenting the bill on Wednesday, Ford told House members it was time to hold social media companies accountable.

“It’s time we show the social media companies we are tired of sitting on the sidelines of the wild wild west of platforms we have today,” said Rep. Ford.

A few days prior, Walker’s Law (HB 1196), authored by State Representative Rob Roberson (R), was also sent to the Governor. The bill would create the offense of sexual extortion and aggravated sexual extortion, often termed “sextortion.”

Attorney General Lynn Fitch (R) has shown support for the passage of the measure as well, saying it will allow law enforcement to go after these perpetrators more effectively. The creation of the offense was needed for prosecution efforts related to minors who fall victim.

“I am so grateful to the Legislature for passing these two bills – one giving us the tools to prosecute criminal sextortion and one giving us more tools to protect children’s safety and wellbeing online,” said Attorney General Fitch. “What a wonderful way to honor the life and loss of Walker Montgomery. I am grateful to Walker’s family for their tireless advocacy to ensure no other parents have to go through the tragedy they endured.”

The bills, named after Walker Montgomery, are in response to the tragic death of the 16-year-old after someone he met online asked for money. When Montgomery said no, the online predator threatened to release a sexually explicit video of him to people he knew. After continued pressure by the predator, Montgomery took his own life in 2022.

The investigation that followed revealed that other teens in the Starkville area, where Montgomery lived, had been targeted. The FBI became involved in the investigation, and it was revealed that the individuals preying on the teens were overseas.

“I’m so proud that Walker will have a legacy that his family can be proud of. I am so happy to be a small part of helping this bill get passed and I hope we are able to help protect children in the future,” said Rep. Roberson on the passage of the bill.

— Article credit to Sarah Ulmer, for the Magnolia Tribune —

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