Republican Governor Spencer Cox signed two laws on Thursday. The laws deny some social media access to children and teens in Utah if they don’t have parental consent. The first-in-the-nation law is designed to shield young people from addictive platforms.
Cox’s legislation comes as parents and lawmakers grow increasingly concerned about kids and teenagers’ social media use. They worry about how platforms like TikTok and Instagram affect young people’s mental health.
The new legislation prohibits kids under 18 from using social media from 10:30 p.m.-6:30 a.m. It also requires proof of age for anyone who wants to use social media in the state. The laws seek to prevent apps from attracting children with addictive features and promoting ads to them.
Cox says studies show that time spent on social media leads to “poor mental health outcomes” for children.
The law could also open the door to lawsuits on behalf of children who claim social media harmed them.
Tech giants like Facebook and Google enjoyed unbridled growth for over a decade. But concerns over privacy, hate speech, misinformation, and harmful effects on teens’ mental health are growing. Lawmakers have made Big Tech attacks a rallying cry on the campaign trail. Once in office, they’ve begun trying to limit various tech platforms.
But legislation has stalled on the federal level. Now states are stepping in.
Arkansas, California, Texas, Ohio, Louisiana, and New Jersey are among those advancing similar proposals against social media.
The new Utah laws require that parents have access to their children’s accounts. They outline rules for people who want to sue over alleged harm from the apps.
Social media companies may have to design new features to comply with the laws. Those could include prohibiting ads promoted to minors. Companies like TikTok, Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram make most of their money by targeting advertising to users.
Tech companies and digital privacy groups push back against such laws. Social media companies are expected to sue before Utah’s laws take effect next year.
Privacy advocates say time limits and age proof infringe on teens’ rights to free speech and privacy. They also point out that confirming every user’s age would give social media platforms more data.
It’s not clear how states plan to enforce new regulations. Companies are already prohibited from collecting data on children under 13 without parental consent under the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. To comply, social media companies ban kids under 13 from signing up for their platforms. But children easily get around the bans, both with and without their parents’ consent.
Utah’s set of laws won support from parents groups and child advocates, with some adding cautions. Common Sense Media CEO Jim Steyer says the legislation “adds momentum for other states to hold social media companies accountable to ensure kids across the country are protected online.”
I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. — Psalm 101:3
(Governor Spencer Cox signs two social media regulation bills during a ceremony in Salt Lake City, Utah, on March 23, 2023. Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)