Utah House passes watered-down social media rules

By Bridger Beal-Cvetko

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (KSL) — The Utah House of Representatives passed legislation regulating social media on Thursday, but only after removing language that would have prevented teens from creating accounts without parental consent.

HB311 initially banned children under the age of 16 from even joining social media, and a new version approved by a committee earlier this week would have required social media companies to verify the age of all users to prevent underage sharing create accounts without parental consent. But the law the House passed on Thursday removed those provisions, instead creating a private right of action intended to make it easier for individuals to sue social media companies for knowingly causing harm.

“This helps level the playing field so parents have tools to hold these companies accountable,” said bill sponsor Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan. “But beyond that, this isn’t a bill that was introduced just to start a series of lawsuits against social media companies, but to … put in place the right incentives to make sure they don’t harm our children.”

Teuscher said if the law passes, it would create a legal presumption that social media use is harmful to minors, meaning social media companies would have the burden of proof if they are sued. HB311 also states that online contracts entered into by a minor are not valid without parental consent, and it prohibits social media companies from using features that are known to cause minors to engage become addicted to social media.

Several House colleagues supported the bill, saying it balances the privacy concerns of age verification with the need to protect children from harmful online content and algorithms.

“I have to admit that when the bill first came out, I was a hard ‘no’ because I had many concerns, particularly around government policies requiring private companies to behave in certain ways, in relation to privacy,” he said Rep. Jay Cobb, R -South Jordan. “But the second replacement that’s in front of us now, I think, has at least assuaged all my concerns. I think the key…is the private right of action that actually empowers parents, but at the same time I believe it gives social media companies the flexibility to create and innovate the way they should.”

HB311 passed the House 68 to 6, with five Republicans and one Democrat in opposition.

A companion bill, SB152, is under discussion in the Senate. As currently written, it would require parental consent for minors to join social media and all users in the state would need to verify their age. Sponsor Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, on Monday promised a change to make the age verification requirement “less prescriptive” but has not released those changes publicly.

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