Utah’s new laws restricting social media access for children focus on time limits, parental approval

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New laws in Utah are aimed at significantly restricting access to social media apps for children under 18 years old.

Republican Gov. Spencer Cox signed two bills into law on Thursday in efforts to shield minors from addictive platforms, such as TikTok. Collectively, both laws seek to prevent children from being lured to apps and from having ads promoted to them.

When the laws take effect in March 2024, kids under 18 will be prohibited from using social media between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. and age verification will be required for anyone who wants to use social media in Utah. The door will also be opened to lawsuits on behalf of children who claim social media harmed them.

Tech companies are expected to sue the state before the laws can be enforced, according to The Associated Press.

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Gov. Spencer Cox signs two social media regulation bills during a ceremony at the Capitol building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 23, 2023. (Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

The signing of the laws comes at a time when many leaders are increasingly speaking out against the harmful effects of social media – proving that the perception of Big Tech has changed over the years amid concerns over things like user privacy, hate speech and misinformation.

Though legislation regulating social media apps has stalled at the federal level, a handful of states are taking matters into their own hands. In addition to Utah, lawmakers in Arkansas, Texas, Ohio, Louisiana and New Jersey are advancing similar proposals. 

California also enacted a law in 2022 requiring tech companies to put kids’ safety first by barring them from profiling children or using personal information in ways that could harm them physically or mentally, The AP reported.

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Gov. Spencer Cox signed a pair of measures that aim to limit when and where children can use social media and stop companies from luring kids to the sites.

Gov. Spencer Cox signed a pair of measures that aim to limit when and where children can use social media and stop companies from luring kids to the sites. (Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

The new Utah laws also require that parents have access to their child’s social media accounts, and they outline rules for those who want to sue over harm allegedly caused by the apps.

Earlier this month, advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation demanded Cox veto the Utah legislation after stating time limits and age verification requirements infringe on teens’ rights to free speech and privacy. The organization also believes verifying every user’s age would empower social media platforms with more data.

The group told The AP that the laws, if implemented, will result in “the majority of young Utahns [finding] themselves effectively locked out of much of the web.”

Tech industry lobbyists also deemed the laws “unconstitutional,” saying they infringe on people’s right to exercise the First Amendment online.

“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,” said Nicole Saad Bembridge, an associate director at tech lobby group NetChoice.

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Gov. Spencer Cox applauds after signing two social media regulation bills during a ceremony at the Capitol building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 23, 2023. 

Gov. Spencer Cox applauds after signing two social media regulation bills during a ceremony at the Capitol building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 23, 2023.  (Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

Parents groups and child advocates mostly welcomed the pair of laws, but some warned against the regulations by stating they contributed to the deprivation of “online privacy protections.”

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, told The AP the effort to rein in social media’s addictive features “adds momentum for other states to hold social media companies accountable to ensure kids across the country are protected online.”

However, the company’s founder and CEO Jim Steyer said giving parents access to children’s social media posts would “deprive kids of the online privacy protections we advocate for,” – adding that the restrictions may keep children from creating accounts on certain platforms, but they don’t do much to stop companies from harvesting users’ data.

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What’s not clear in Utah’s new laws is how the regulations will be enforced as the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act already prohibits companies from collecting data on children under 13 without parental consent – though children have been able to easily get around those bans over the years.

Popular social media apps on a phone.

Popular social media apps on a phone. (Getty Images)

Cox said studies have shown that time spent on social media leads to “poor mental health outcomes” for children.

“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,” he said. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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