Utah has enacted controversial restrictions that will require minors to obtain the consent of a guardian to use social media platforms, the first US state to introduce such measures. Two laws signed by Governor Spencer Cox on Thursday — H.B. 311 and S.B. 152 — form part of the new Utah Social Media Regulation Act, aimed at protecting children from addictive features and targeted ads on social platforms.
The H.B. 311 bill prohibits social media companies from broadly “using a design or feature that causes a minor to have an addiction” to their platform and grants minor account holders the right to collect damages for addiction, physical, or emotional harm incurred as a result of using a social media platform. The S.B. 152 bill requires platforms to both enforce age verification for users in Utah and obtain parental consent for those under 18 to create an account.
The regulations force social media companies to allow parents access to their child’s social media accounts
The new laws also restrict anyone under 18 from using social media between 10:30PM and 6:30AM, force social media companies to allow parents and guardians to set time limits for how long a minor can use their accounts, and allow parents to access all of their children’s posts. Social media companies are additionally prohibited from displaying ads or targeted content to minors, collecting their personal information, and displaying minors in public search results.
Both bills were passed by Utah’s Republican-controlled legislature earlier this month, despite opposition from tech industry lobbyists and civil liberties groups who claim the laws infringe on people’s right to exercise free speech under the First Amendment. A statement (seen via The Associated Press) from the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation said earlier this month that age verification mandates don’t just affect children, preventing millions of US citizens without government-issued identification — often from low-income backgrounds and / or marginalized groups — from accessing online spaces and carry risks that the verification data could be misused or stolen in security breaches.
Social media companies are expected to challenge the legislation before it comes into effect on March 1st, 2024. The bills don’t clarify how the state will enforce the new regulations; however, Cox said he plans to work with social media companies to figure that out. “We’re no longer willing to let social media companies continue to harm the mental health of our youth,” said the governor on Twitter, announcing the legislation.
Mental health is just one of many concerns expressed in ongoing debates about the impact of social media on the well-being of children. The Utah bills were passed on the same day TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared before Congress to convince US lawmakers the app is safe amid concerns regarding user privacy and national security. The app faces a nationwide ban in the US, though progress has been slow since former President Donald Trump first pushed for restrictions in 2020 — prompting states to introduce their own laws restricting the app.