Utah Governor Signs Controversial a bill on Thursday that would require minors to obtain the consent of a guardian before joining social media platforms, in what would be the most aggressive move by state or federal lawmakers to protect children online.
As part of a bill called the Utah Social Media Regulation Act Social media platforms will be required to perform age verification for all Utah residents, ban all advertising to minors, and impose curfews making their sites offline from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. to anyone under 18. The bill would also require social platforms to give parents access to their teens’ accounts.
legislation, I’m sorry, what introduced by Republican Senator Michael McKel and accepted by Republican Governor Spencer Cox, effective March 1, 2024.
“When it comes down to it, [the bill] it’s about protecting our children,” McKell said in a statement to CNN, citing how depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts have “surged” among teenagers in Utah and across the United States along with the rise of social networking sites. “As a legislator and parent, I believe this bill is the best way to prevent our children from the negative and sometimes life-threatening effects of social media.”
The law comes after years of U.S. lawmakers calling for new measures to protect teens online, amid concerns about social platforms leading young users down harmful rabbit holes, allowing new forms of bullying and harassment, and exacerbating what has been described as an adolescent mental health crisis in the country. However, to date no federal law has been adopted.
Utah is the first of a wider list of states making similar proposals. For example, in Connecticut and Ohio, legislators work on the adoption of the law this will require social media companies to get parental permission before users under 16 can join.
“We can assume that other methods, such as the Utah bill, may find their way into the plans of other states, especially if action is not taken at the federal level,” said Michael Inouye, an analyst at ABI Research. “Eventually, if enough states pass similar or related legislation, we may see a more concerted effort at the federal level to codify these (probably) disparate state laws as part of an all-American policy.”
Industry experts and big tech companies have long been calling on the US government to introduce regulations that could help keep young social media users safe. But even before the bill was passed, some voiced concerns about its implications. Electronic Frontier Foundation, Digital Rights Group, said Utah’s specific set of regulations are “dangerous” when it comes to user privacy, adding that the bill would make user data less secure, Internet access less private, and infringe on basic rights for young users.
“Social media provides a lifeline for many young people in addition to community, education and networking,” said Jason Kelly, director of activism at EFF. “They use it in part because it can be private… A law that would restrict access to social media and require parental consent and supervision of minors would irreparably damage young people’s ability to protect their privacy and deter them from exercising their rights. ”
Lucy Ivey, an 18-year-old TikTok influencer who is a student at the University of Utah Valley, agreed, saying some of her friends in the LGBTQ community may run into trouble with the change.
“I am concerned about this bill because it will take away privacy for teenagers, and many children have poor relationships with their parents or do not have a reliable guardian who would be needed to access social networks.” she told CNN. “I think about my LGBTQ friends; some of them had a hard time with their parents because of their sexuality or identity and may lose an important place where they can be themselves, be seen and heard.”
Ivey, who launched a publication called our era at the age of 15 and expanded her content on TikTok, said she was also concerned about how the bill would affect content creators like herself. (If a legal guardian does not approve of teens’ online activity or digital presence, those individuals may have to suspend their accounts before they turn 18.)
“With a new law like this, they may now be intimidated and discouraged by the legal hoops required to use social media out of fear of the authorities or their parents, or out of fear of losing their privacy at a time when teenagers find out what are they. Ivy said.
facebook parent Meta told CNN that it has the same goals as parents and politicians, but the company said it also wants young people to have a safe and positive online experience and that its platforms remain accessible. Antigone Davis, Meta’s global head of security, said the company “will continue to work closely with experts, policy makers and parents on these important issues.”
Representatives for TikTok and Snap did not respond to a request for comment.
Given the bill is unprecedented, it’s unclear exactly how social media will adapt. For example, legislation requires platforms to disable algorithms for “suggested content.” This particular guidance can help keep teens from falling into the rabbit holes of potentially harmful content, but it can also create new problems. This means that the company will no longer have oversight and control over the downgrading of problematic content that may appear in a user’s feed.
Some of the bill’s guidelines may also be difficult to enforce. Inoue said minors can “steal” identity – from family members who don’t use social media, for example – to create accounts they can access and use without supervision. VPNs can also make it harder to map IP addresses to user states, he says.
But even if the legislative moves by Utah and other states turn out to be misguided, Inoue says “these early efforts are at least drawing attention to these issues.”