Explained: Utah is the first US state to control the use of social media by minors

Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox signs the two social media acts into law. (Image credit: AP)

Critics of the Utah law have claimed that the currently proposed legislation will not help make social media safer for minors. Subscribe to notifications Subscribe to notifications The story

Last Thursday, Utah became the first state to pass legislation requiring children to get parental consent before using social media apps and websites, while also giving parents full access to their profiles and everything to grant what they post.

Additionally, twin laws passed in Utah’s Republican-controlled legislature establish a curfew that blocks children’s access to social media between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. unless adjusted by their parents.

Most poignant for the social media companies themselves, the bills limit the ability of platforms to collect data from children and/or use targeted advertising against them, while making it easier to take legal action against companies if their products infringe minors in any way Ways to harm and/or make them addicted to using social media.

The twin laws come into effect on March 1, 2024 and are widely expected to face legal challenges from social media companies leading up to that date.

The first of its kind

The passage of the twin statutes in Utah was accompanied by much pomp and ceremony, with Governor Spencer J. Cox quoted as saying, “These are the first bills of their kind in the United States. That’s huge.”

But this should only be a start. As Cox himself noted in a quote for the Associated Press, “We remain very optimistic that we will be able to pass legislation, not just here in the state of Utah, but across the country, that will change our children’s relationship with these very destructive people.” significantly transforming social media apps.”

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While there are very few issues today that unite the left and right sides of the US political spectrum, social media legislation is one such area where both sides agree more often than disagree, especially when minors are involved.

Last year, California, a bastion of democratic politics, enacted the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, a law that, among other things, directs online platforms to consider the privacy and protections of minors under the age of 18 when designing digital products or Services that these platforms can offer.

As may be apparent, the California law did not specifically target social media platforms, although they are heavily covered by the bill, which forces companies to put the best interests of minors ahead of the company itself in the event of a conflict comes between the two.

Following Utah’s example, several US states such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, New Jersey and Texas are considering similar bills this year that aim to introduce laws similar to the Utah Social Media Regulation Act.

Aside from the states, at the national level, backed by the Joe Biden administration, there is a concerted effort to regulate the social media landscape more tightly, as evidenced by the recent TikTok congressional hearing.

At the hearing, lawmakers grilled TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew on a variety of topics ranging from the platform’s alleged ties to the Chinese Communist Party to concerns about the mental health of its young users.

All of this comes as Congress prepares to pass a series of legislation aimed at curbing the negative impact of social media platforms, such as America’s forthcoming Privacy Act.

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concerns and rejection

While the sheer number of studies showing an adverse association between social media and the mental health of minors is hard to deny, critics of Utah law have claimed that the legislation currently being introduced is not the right answer to the problem.

The new law consists of two separate bills. The first is SB152, the part of the law that requires children to obtain parental consent for social media and implement social media curfews. The most basic argument of the critics of this bill is that it violates the fundamental rights of under-18s to privacy and freedom of expression.

This is a particularly relevant point given US Republicans’ obsession with combating perceived censorship efforts by social media platforms aimed at supposedly stifling freedom of expression. Apparently the same standards don’t apply when children are involved.

Some critics have also drawn rather unfavorable comparisons between the bill and similar efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to educate and restrict minors’ use of social media.

The second, more specific point against this law is that it will be problematic to implement. To verify user’s age and child-parent relationship online, social media companies would need to collect more information from their youngest users, not less.

This information can then of course be sold or leaked or generally used for nefarious purposes contrary to any of the intended purposes of Utah law.

The second bill encompassing the law is HB311, which specifically requires social media companies to ensure their products are not designed to addict minors and allows the minors to sue the company if they believe , to have become addicted to the product or otherwise suffered damage as a result.

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The most notable opposition to this law is that it is vague, with the threshold for social media addiction for minors remaining legally vague and subject to broad interpretations as to whether social media companies were negligent in creating these addictions.

Regardless, the final text of the law is expected to see some changes before it goes into effect next year, as the two bills are likely to be opened for industry and expert consultation.