Utah governor signs bill requiring teens to get parental approval to join social media sites

The governor of Utah has signed a bill that requires minors to get consent from a guardian before joining social media platforms.

Utah governor signs bill requiring teens to get parental approval to join social media sites

CNN New York --

On Thursday, the governor of Utah signed controversial legislation that requires minors to get consent from a guardian before they can join social media platforms. This is the most aggressive step by either state or federal legislators to protect children online.

The Utah Social Media Regulation Act will require social media platforms to verify age for all Utah residents. They also have to ban ads for minors, impose a curfew and make their sites unavailable between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. for anyone below the age of 18. Social media platforms will be required to grant parents access to their teenagers' accounts under the Utah Social Media Regulation Act.

The legislation was introduced by Republican Senator Michael McKell and approved by Republican Governor Spencer Cox. It will be in effect from March 1, 2024.

McKell stated that the bill was about protecting children. He cited how suicide ideation, depression and anxiety have 'drastically increased’ among Utah teens and other Americans, along with the rise of social media. "As both a parent and a lawmaker, I believe that this bill is the best way forward to ensure our children don't succumb to the sometimes fatal and life-threatening consequences of social media.

After years of US lawmakers calling to create new safeguards for teens online, the legislation follows concerns that social media platforms could lead younger users down dangerous rabbit holes. This could allow them to bully and harass others and contribute to what has been called a teen mental crisis in America. However, federal legislation has not yet been passed.

Utah is one of many states that has introduced similar proposals. For example, Ohio and Connecticut are currently working on legislation to require social media companies that have parental permission to allow users younger than 16 years old to join.

According to Michael Inouye of ABI Research, an analyst, 'We can expect more methods such as the Utah bill to find their way into other state plans, especially if no actions are taken at the federal or state level. If enough states adopt similar legislation, it is possible to see a greater effort at the federal level in codifying these (likely) disparate laws under a US policy.

Experts in the industry and Big Tech companies have long called for regulations to be introduced by the US government that would help protect young users of social media. Some had expressed concerns about the legislation's impact even before it was passed. Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights organization, stated that Utah's particular set of rules is 'dangerous' in terms of user privacy. It also said that the bill would make internet access more private, less secure, and infringe on younger users' basic rights.

Jason Kelley, EFF director of activism, stated that social media is a vital tool for young people. They use it because it is private. The law that would restrict social media access and require parental consent for monitoring minors will incalculably hurt young people's ability to protect their privacy, and prevent them from exercising their rights.

Lucy Ivey (18-year-old TikTok influencer) from Utah Valley University agreed. She said that some of her LGBTQ friends may have difficulties with the changes.

CNN's She said that her concern with the bill was that it would remove teenagers' privacy. Many teens don't have good relationships or reliable guardians and don't have access to social media. "I think about my LGBTQ friends. Some who have had trouble with their parents due to their sexuality or identities, and they could lose an important place where it is possible to be themselves and be heard.

Ivey, who started a publication called Our Era when she was 15 years old and increased its content via TikTok said that she is also concerned about the impact of the bill on content creators such as herself. If a guardian is concerned about a teenager's online activities or digital presence, they may have to suspend their accounts until they turn 18.

Ivey stated that teens may feel intimidated or discouraged by social media laws like this. This could be because they fear being judged or their parents or losing their privacy, which is a time when they are trying to figure out who they are.

Meta, a Facebook parent, told CNN that it shares the same goals with parents and policymakers. However, the company stated it also wants young people have safe and positive online experiences and to keep its platforms available. Antigone Davis, global head of safety at Meta, stated that the company would 'continue working closely with experts and policymakers on these important issues'.

Snap representatives did not respond to our request for comment.

It's not clear how social media companies will adapt to the unprecedented bill. The legislation, for example, requires platforms to disable algorithms for'suggested material'. While this guideline might help teens avoid falling into dangerous content traps, it can also present new problems. This could mean that the company may lose control and oversight over the downranking of potentially harmful content in users' feeds.

It may be difficult to enforce some of the guidelines in the bill. Inouye stated that minors could "steal" identities, such as those from relatives who don't use social networks, to create accounts they can access and use with no oversight. He said that VPNs could make it difficult to match IP addresses with the states of users.

Even if the legislative efforts from Utah and other states are flawed, Inouye believes that 'these early attempts are at least bringing attention on these issues'