Oct 17, 2023 - News

Utah unveils age-verification rules for social media

Illustration of multiple pencils erasing red speech bubbles against a pattern of white speech bubbles

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

State officials unveiled proposed age-verification rules for social media companies Monday, outlining the specific procedures they want platforms to follow to confirm users under 18 have parental permission.

Driving the news: State regulators on Monday shared details for age verification under a new law requiring social media companies to obtain parental consent for minors to start, or access, accounts.

Why it matters: The rules could affect all social media users in Utah since even adults will have to verify they aren't minors.

Details: Under the proposal, social media companies would have to choose from state-approved verification methods, including mobile telephone subscriber information, the date an account was created, facial analysis, Social Security numbers and matching a user's government ID to a live webcam image.

  • Users under 18 would have to get their parents' written consent to open an account.

Yes, but: Difficulties around those verification methods have prevented several state and national governments from enacting similar age laws, despite years of debate about how and whether to implement them.

Zoom in: A federal judge in late August temporarily blocked a similar Arkansas law, characterizing it as "an unnecessarily broad suppression of speech addressed to adults."

Flashback: Utah, undeterred by other governments' difficulties, began requiring adult content websites to verify users' age in May.

The big picture: If social media companies similarly shut down access in Utah, the ramifications would be far more significant than a porn blackout.

  • The rule, as written, applies to social media companies with at least 5 million account holders. That captures more platforms than, say, a federal proposal that would regulate how big tech pays for news content; that measure affects only companies with 50 million users.

Reality check: Utah's social media rules give more options to verify age than its porn law, which requires users to submit an ID.

  • Many platforms are already experimenting with similar verification measures voluntarily.

What they're saying: "We've developed more than 30 tools to support families," said Antigone Davis, head of global safety for Facebook and Instagram owner Meta, in a written statement to Axios. Those include parental supervision controls and AI tools that help detect when users are lying about their age.

The intrigue: The state may fine companies up to $2,500 per violation — but it's unclear who's liable if the verification tools fail or kids falsify proof of age or parental consent.

  • The proposed rule has detailed requirements that companies delete users' verification data within 45 days. It's unclear how they could defend against an alleged violation if evidence from their verification process is erased.

What's next: The public can comment on the proposed rules until Feb. 5, 2024 at socialmedia.utah.gov.

  • A hearing is set for 9am Nov. 1 in Room 220 of the Senate Building at the Utah State Capitol.
  • The rules are scheduled to take effect March 1, 2024.
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