The social media landscape in Utah is about to shift for kids under the age of 18.
A bill restricting use without a parent’s consent has passed in the state legislature, which Governor Spencer Cox is set to sign, according to Axios. SB-152 would hold “social media companies accountable for the damage that they are doing to our people,” Governor Cox said.
Adults would be under scrutiny as well, under the new law slated for March 1, 2024. If they don’t verify their ages, they could lose access to social media platforms, too.
Tracking would be handled by the Division of Consumer Protection, which would determine how companies collect information on ages and verify parental consent, as well as establish methods for identification. These may exceed a valid government-issued ID, the bill said. Approved parents would be given a password that allows them to access their children’s accounts.
Under a separate companion bill, social media companies would be liable for harm that kids experience on their platforms. HB311 “prohibits a social media company from using a design or feature that causes a minor to have an addiction to the company's social media platform,” among other restrictions.
Psychological experts and policymakers have become increasingly worried about the harmful mental health effects of social media usage among kids.
“There is a substantial link to depression, and that link tends to be stronger among girls,” Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and leading expert on the subject, told Axios.
A number of plaintiffs in hundreds of cases, including the Seattle Public School District, have sued tech companies for their roles in creating and contributing to a mental health crisis. The companies contend they have many tools to help teens and parents navigate their apps, a Meta spokesperson said in a statement. Such tools limit the time teens spend on Instagram and verify ages so that kids are directed to age-appropriate content.
NetChoice, a tech industry trade association, sent a letter to Cox, urging him to veto the bill, its spokesperson Krista Chavez said in a statement. Twitter, TikTok, Meta, and Google are members.
“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.