A new law in Utah requires kids under 18 to ask their parents for permission if they want to use social media. Yup, you read that right – what should probably be a part of parents’ responsibilities, the lawmakers took into their own hands. Other than parental consent, kids who do have it will still have a curfew and will be banned from using their favorite social media apps between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.
While the law is designed to “protect the young from addictive features” of social media apps, it raises other concerns. Among them are privacy, as well as freedom of speech.
[Related reading: Seattle schools sue TikTok, meta, Snapchat, and YouTube over students’ mental health and behavioral issues]
The new Utah social media law for minors
“We’re no longer willing to let social media companies continue to harm the mental health of our youth,” Republican Gov. Spencer Cox wrote on Twitter. “Today we signed two key bills in our fight against social media companies into law.”
“SB152 requires social media companies to verify that users in the state are 18 or older to open an account. Minors will need parental consent to create an account.
HB311 prohibits social media companies from using a design or feature that causes addiction for a minor to the company’s social media platform. This bill also makes it easier for people to sue social media companies for damages.”
We’re no longer willing to let social media companies continue to harm the mental health of our youth. Today we signed two key bills in our fight against social media companies into law:
➡️ SB152 requires social media companies to verify that users in https://t.co/GVAcSi9zHx… pic.twitter.com/M1Kbya1xQi
— Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox (@GovCox) March 23, 2023
There’s even a dedicated website about the law, which should take effect on March 1, 2024. There I learned that it requires age verification if you want to open a new or even maintain your current social media account. Users under 18 need the consent of a parent or guardian.
What happens when underage users get their parents’ consent
Now, if they get consent, social media apps are obliged to allow parents full access to their kids’ accounts. There will also be a default curfew setting that blocks access between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. The law proposition reads that this can be adjusted by parents, so I guess at least the time of the curfew is actually up to families to decide on.
Furthermore, this law prohibits anyone whom the child hasn’t followed or friended from messaging the child. All underage accounts will be blocked from search results. In addition, social media companies are forbidden from collecting a child’s data, and they can’t target the accounts of children for advertising. I can’t say I disagree with this.
However, as you might have expected, lawmakers have no idea how to actually enforce the new regulations. “Companies are already prohibited from collecting data on children under 13 without parental consent under the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act,” the Associated Press writes. “To comply, social media companies already ban kids under 13 from signing up to their platforms.” Yeah, they ban them on paper, but all children have to do is say that they’re over 13 when signing up, and that’s it. It’s pretty easy to bypass the rule. Still, Cox is “very optimistic” that the law will be passed not only in Utah but in other states as well.
The good sides of Utah’s new social media law
The lawmakers keep citing “mental health concerns” as the reason for passing this law. And I agree that social media can be dangerous for young minds. There have been multiple lawsuits blaming Snapchat, Instagram, and other social networks for children’s suicides. Even if the outcome is not this tragic, spending time on social media takes its toll in the form of developing insecurities, body dysmorphia, cyberbullying, and many other things.
I personally agree with some aspects of this law. Most of all, the parts that ban social media companies from collecting children’s data and targeting them for ads. It’s also a good idea to ban people the child doesn’t follow from messaging them and blocking underage accounts from search results. But there still are some parts I disagree with and some potential issues I’d like to discuss.
The potential problems of Utah’s new social media law
Let’s start with parental consent and the curfew. While I totally agree that kids should ask parents if they can use social media and when – I’m a little sad that this had to be made a law. The Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that this also infringes on teens’ rights to free speech and privacy.
What could also be an issue is privacy. Verifying every user without just clicking “I’m over 13” would most likely require more data from those making an account for themselves or giving consent to their kids. This would mean plenty more sensitive data shared with Meta and other companies, like government-issued IDs or birth certificates. And we all know those aren’t exactly safe when shared with corporations like this.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation also claims that “the majority of young Utahns will find themselves effectively locked out of much of the web” if the law gets passed. Let’s remember that not everyone has a government-issued ID, like folks from “low-income backgrounds and/or marginalized groups,” as The Verge points out. So even though it’s aimed at children – this law won’t only affect them.
Of course, big companies like Meta or Snap are expected to sue before the laws take effect, according to the AP. So we’ll see where this all goes, but it’s definitely not over.
[via The Verge]
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