(Photo by Jewel Samad/Staff via Getty Images)
OAN Brooke Mallory
UPDATED 4:31 PM – Friday, March 24, 2023
Governor Spencer Cox signed two bills on Thursday requiring parental approval before children can sign up for social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram. This makes Utah the first state to establish legislation restricting how children use social media.
In addition, the two bills Cox (R-Utah) signed into action forbid anyone under the age of 18 from using social media in the state between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m., as well as a mandated age verification feature for anyone attempting to use these apps.
Cox retweeted a post from NYU Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt, in celebration of the new laws.
4. 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:https://t.co/wR3n08h4lN
— Jonathan Haidt (@JonHaidt) March 24, 2023
The aim is reportedly to stop tech companies from luring young people to their apps with “addictive” aspects.
The legislation enacted by Utah’s Republican-supermajority legislature is the most recent example of how legislators’ opinions of internet corporations are evolving, specifically those of pro-business conservatives.
In spite of the unrestricted expansion that tech companies like Facebook and Google have seen for more than a decade, lawmakers are now attempting to control them due to worries about teen mental health, hate speech, and user privacy.
The CEO of TikTok testified before Congress on the same day that Utah’s law was signed, discussing TikTok’s influence on teenagers’ mental health, among other things.
However, federal legislation has stalled, forcing states to take action.
Similar plans are being considered in other red states, including Arkansas, Texas, Ohio, and Louisiana. Even some blue states, such as New Jersey, are joining in on the efforts to combat possible social media harm.
Last year, California passed legislation requiring tech companies and digital businesses to prioritize the safety of children by forbidding them from profiling or utilizing personal data in ways that could cause children bodily or emotional harm.
Additionally, in terms of rules requiring parental consent, social media companies would most likely need to create additional features to adhere to the laws that forbid advertising to children and displaying it in search results.
Companies like TikTok, Snapchat, and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, get the majority of their funding from targeting advertisements to their app users.
Under the federal Children’s Internet Privacy Protection Act, businesses are already forbidden from collecting data on children under 13 without the approval of their parents. Because of this, social media firms currently prohibit children under the age of 13 from signing up for their platforms. Yet, youngsters can easily get around this restriction, both with or without their parents’ permission.
According to studies emphasized by the governor, children under the age of 18 who spend too much time on social media, have “bad mental health consequences.”
“We remain very optimistic that we will be able to pass, not just here in the state of Utah but across the country, legislation that significantly changes the relationship of our children with these very destructive social media apps,” Cox proclaimed.
With a few restrictions, child advocate groups generally supported the measure.
The ruling, intended to control the addictive qualities of social media, was praised by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization focusing on children and technology.
The new measure “adds momentum for other states to hold social media companies accountable to ensure kids across the country are protected online,” voiced Jim Steyer, the CEO and founder of Common Sense.
The safety and mental health of children and teenagers under 18 depend on legislation like this to hold big tech accountable for delivering safer and healthier online experiences, Steyer said, pointing to similar legislation that is being worked on in different states.
However, Steyer continued on, warning that social media could “deprive kids of the online privacy protections we advocate for. The law also requires age verification and parental consent for minors to create a social media account, which doesn’t get to the root of the problem — kids and teens will still be exposed to companies’ harmful data collection and design practices once they are on the platform.”
These regulations are the most recent attempt by Utah legislators to address the issue of children and the online information they can access. Due to the risks it posed to minors, Cox signed legislation two years ago requiring tech companies to immediately ban porn on all working smartphones and tablets.
Due to worries about enforcement, legislators in the fervently religious state changed the bill such that it wouldn’t take effect unless five other states enacted corresponding legislation.
The media laws come at a time when parents and legislators are becoming more concerned about children’s and teenagers’ usage of the platforms, and how sites like TikTok, Instagram, and others are hurting the mental health of younger generations.
In March of next year, it is scheduled to go into full-effect, and Cox has already stated that he expects social media corporations to sue in order to overturn it.
Lobbyists for the IT sector immediately denounced the legislation as unlawful, claiming it restricts people’s ability to exercise their First Amendment rights online.
Nicole Saad Bembridge, associate director of the tech lobby group NetChoice, expressed great concern regarding the new laws.
“Utah will soon require online services to collect sensitive information about teens and families, not only to verify ages, but to verify parental relationships, like government-issued IDs and birth certificates, putting their private data at risk of breach.”
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