Utah Passes Landmark Social-Media Regulations Aimed at Protecting Children
Governor Spencer Cox (R., Utah) signed a pair of bills regulating social-media use among minors. The new laws introduce a host of new measures aimed at protecting children and empowering parental oversight.
Provisions include age verification for maintaining a social-media profile, consent of guardians for a minor to open an account, parental access to all content from their child’s account, and limited data collection for juveniles.
“This is something that is killing our kids,” Governor Cox told reporters at a March 16 news conference. “It’s the addictive qualities of social media that are intentionally being placed by these companies to get our kids addicted, and they know it’s harming them.”
Governor Cox credited academic researchers Jonathan Haidt and Jean Twenge who have chronicled the toll social-media addiction has wrought on young Americans in recent years alongside think tanks such as the Institute for Family Studies.
“It is time that we listen to Gen Z, and to the experimental studies, which now show clear evidence that social media is a cause, not just a correlate of mental illness,” Haidt tweeted on Friday.
“Congress will have to raise the age of ‘internet adulthood’ someday; 13 is way too low. In the meantime, every state should follow Utah: require parental consent for minors to open accounts. We parents of teens are all struggling. Help us out,” Haidt implored his Twitter followers.
1. So proud of Gov. @SpencerJCox for signing pathbreaking legislation in Utah today to curb kids’ use of social media & give parents more power to guide their kids’ tech use. Utah has led the way in efforts to protect our kids from Big Tech. https://t.co/Xey7ruFv8W pic.twitter.com/uRbUknDI8v
— Brad Wilcox (@BradWilcoxIFS) March 23, 2023
Brad Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia, applauded the decision.
“Utah’s pioneering legislation takes power from Big Tech and gives it to parents. Given the emotional harms associated with social media, this move is long overdue,” Wilcox told National Review.
“I hope other states — or better yet Congress — will follow with similar measures to protect our kids,” Wilcox, an IFS fellow, added.
The bill also curtails the use of applications between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. as the default setting on children’s accounts that would require a parental override to change.
“If a parent wants to give their kids free rein online, under our bill they are going to have the ability to do that,” Republican representative Mike McKell, one of the bill’s Senate sponsor’s told the Salt Lake Tribune. “But we want parents to be involved in the process, and we’re not going to apologize for that.”
However, civil-rights organizations have warned that such sweeping changes might have unintended consequences on certain communities.
“We know that marginalized youth, such as L.G.B.T.Q. kids, use social media in some really important ways to find belonging and support, especially when they don’t have family support,” Sarah Coyne, a professor of child development at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, told the New York Times.
“So if you’ve got a 17-year-old who is really struggling with mental health turning to social media to find a place to belong, and their parents are cutting it off or looking at their messages, that can have a really significant negative impact,” she said.
Youth rates of depression and other mental health issues are on the rise because of social media companies. As leaders, and parents, we have a responsibility to protect our young people.
Check out https://t.co/GVAcSi9zHx, our new website where you can learn more about the new… pic.twitter.com/zz5dRkdKVn
— Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox (@GovCox) March 24, 2023
The nonprofit, Connect Safely, which specializes in digital data security, warned that the new bills could create novel risks.
“SB 152 would require companies to keep a ‘record of any submissions provided under the requirements,’ which means there would not only be databases of all social media users but also of users under 18, which could be hacked by criminals or foreign governments seeking information on Utah children and adults,” the organization’s chief executive, Larry Magid, wrote in a Mercury News op-ed back in early February.
“No one expects a data breach, but they happen on a regular basis.”
Unlike a similar measure passed last year in California, which instituted stricter privacy requirements for users under 18 years old, the latest legislative initiative from Utah adds several new layers of parental control and consent into the picture.
Similar bills are currently working through state legislatures in Arkansas, Ohio, and Louisiana aimed at curtailing children’s use of social-media networks without parental consent. In Texas, a bill was recently introduced to bar minors from all such platforms entirely until the age of 18.