Mar 6, 2023 - News

Utah set to limit minors from using social media without parent's OK

Illustration of chains and padlock wrapped around a phone.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Utah is poised to pass a law restricting children and teens under age 18 from using social media without their parent's consent.

  • Meanwhile, adults could lose access to their accounts, too, if they refuse to verify their age.

The latest: After SB 152 cleared its final legislative hurdle last week, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox told reporters Friday — the final day of the 2023 general session — he planned to sign the bill.

  • Cox said the state was "holding social media companies accountable for the damage that they are doing to our people."

Between the lines: Starting March 1, 2024, all Utahns would have to confirm their ages to use social media platforms or lose account access, under the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Michael McKell (R-Spanish Fork).

  • Of note: McKell is Cox's brother-in-law.

How it works: The state Division of Consumer Protection would determine how companies verify users' ages and confirm parental consent.

  • The division would also establish "acceptable forms or methods of identification, which may not be limited to a valid identification card issued by a government entity," per the bill.
  • Social media companies would be required to give a parent or guardian a password that allows them to access their child's account.
  • A companion bill, HB 311, would render social media companies liable for harm kids experience on the platforms. That measure is also en route to the governor's desk.

The big picture: The proposed legislation comes as experts and policymakers nationwide are warning about the mental health consequences social media may have on young users.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' tech and policy reporter Ashley Gold: Utah's efforts are a relatively radical version of ideas tossed around in Washington, D.C. lately, and a similar federal bill would likely struggle to pass. But tech companies have reason to be worried about an influx of similar laws and more age verification requirements.

What they're saying: A spokesperson for Meta, the parent company that owns Facebook and Instagram, told Axios in a statement they've created more than 30 tools to help teens and parents navigate their apps. Those include measures that limit the time teens spend on Instagram, as well as age-verification technology that directs users to age-appropriate content.

  • The company doesn't allow content on its platforms that promotes suicide, self-harm or eating disorders, the Meta representative said.
  • TikTok did not respond to Axios' request for comment.

The other side: Krista Chavez, a spokesperson for NetChoice, a tech industry trade association, said the group sent a letter to Cox urging him to veto the bills, per a Friday statement.

  • "These bills' shared goal to protect children from harmful content is laudable and one that NetChoice supports. But the chosen means are not only unconstitutional, they require businesses to collect sensitive information about all Utahns, putting everyone, even children, at risk," Chaves said.
  • The association's members include Twitter, TikTok, Meta and Google.

Context: Another measure proposed by state Rep. Trevor Lee (R-Layton) that aimed to ban cell phones and smartwatches in K-12 schools statewide failed.

What we're watching: The legal ramifications of the bills.

What's next: Cox said he anticipates litigation over SB 152.

  • "I can't wait to get in front of a judge and jury with ease. It will be one of the happiest days of my life. We get to show the world what they've known and what they've been doing," he said.

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