Utah Passes Laws to Regulate Social Media Use for Minors

KEY TAKEAWAYS
Utah has become the first state in the US to regulate social media use by minors, with two bills signed into law by Governor Spencer Cox aimed at protecting young people's mental health.
The legislation requires social media companies to verify users are at least 18 years old or have parental consent, prohibits social media companies from using addictive design features, and restricts minors' access to their accounts at certain times.
The move has been widely welcomed by children's advocacy groups, but some groups, such as TechFreedom and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have raised concerns about potential free speech and privacy implications of the new regulations.
Similar legislation is being considered in other states, and social media companies are responding by expanding parental controls to give guardians more control over what their children see and how much time they spend on the platforms.
The debate over how best to protect children online is likely to continue, with a range of proposals to address perceived harms, including privacy invasion, child exploitation, cyberbullying, and anxiety.

 

Utah has become the first state in the United States to enact sweeping legislation aimed at regulating the use of social media by minors.

The move comes as the impact of social media on young people’s mental health continues to cause concern.

On Thursday, Utah Governor Spencer Cox signed two bills that are designed to provide greater protection to young people on social media platforms.

Parental Consent and Verification Required

The first of the two bills signed into law by Governor Cox, S.B. 152, requires social media companies to verify that users are at least 18 years old to open an account from March 1, 2024. 

Those under the age of 18 will need the explicit consent of a parent or guardian to create an account. The law also grants parents full access to their child’s social media account.

The second bill signed by Governor Cox, H.B. 311, prohibits social media companies from using design or features that cause minors to become addicted to social media.

It also makes it easier for users to sue social media companies.

The bills also include provisions that require social media companies to stop minors from accessing their accounts between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. unless they receive parental consent.

Additionally, social media companies will no longer be allowed to collect data on children or target them with advertising.

Support for the New Laws

The move has been widely welcomed by children’s advocacy groups, including Common Sense Media, which called it a “huge victory for kids and families in Utah”.

The organization added that it added momentum for other states to hold social media companies accountable to ensure that children across the country are protected online.

The organization added that it added momentum for other states to hold social media companies accountable to ensure that children across the country are protected online.

Concerns Over the New Legislation

However, not everyone is happy with the new legislation. Ari Z. Cohn, a free speech lawyer for TechFreedom, expressed concern that the bills pose “significant free speech problems”.

He argued that the legislation could cut off social media access to children who might be in abusive households or who are LGBT.

Similarly, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit digital civil liberties group, expressed opposition to the new regulations.

They warned that the age-verification law would make users less secure and make internet access less private overall. The group also raised First Amendment concerns.

Social Media Companies’ Response

Meta Platforms Inc., the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, said that it wants teens to be safe on their platforms.

The company has developed more than 30 tools to support teens and families, including age-verification technology and tools that limit the amount of time teens spend on Instagram.

YouTube, Snapchat, and TikTok have yet to respond to the new legislation.

Broader Concerns Over Children’s Use of Social Media

The new legislation in Utah is part of a broader trend of efforts to regulate social media use by minors.

President Joe Biden has called for laws that would ban tech companies from collecting data on children, and California state lawmakers passed their own child data law last year.

Research has shown that many young people struggle to control their social media use.

A 2022 survey by Pew Research Center found that almost half of U.S. teens reported being online “almost constantly,” a jump from 24% in 2015.

Social media companies have responded by expanding their parental controls to give guardians more control over what their children see and how much time they spend on the platforms.

Conclusion

Utah’s new laws represent a significant step forward in regulating social media use by minors. 

While the legislation has been praised by children’s advocacy groups, concerns have been raised about its potential impact on free speech and privacy.

The move is part of a wider trend of efforts to protect children online, as research shows that many young people struggle to control their social media use.

Social media companies have responded by expanding parental controls to give guardians more control over what their children see and how much time they spend on the platforms. 

However, it remains to be seen whether similar legislation will be enacted in other states, as some groups continue to raise concerns about the potential impact on free speech and privacy. 

The debate over how best to protect children online is likely to continue as technology continues to evolve and social media becomes an increasingly integral part of daily life.

Craig Miller

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