Utah first state to pass law restricting minors’ access to social media

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah became the first state in the U.S. to pass a law restricting minors’ access to social media sites and apps.

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Gov. Spencer Cox signed a pair of bills on Thursday that will limit when and how minors in the state can use sites, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

According to the newspaper, the Utah Social Media Regulation Act -- SB152 -- was introduced by Republican Sen. Michael McKell.

It will require age verification for all users before they can open or maintain an account. Minors also need permission from their parents before opening a social media account. The bills also restrict minors’ use of social media sites and apps from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. unless a parent changes those settings; under the law, platforms must also ensure that children cannot bypass the restrictions.

The bill also gives parents the ability to access a minor’s account, including posts and private messages, the Tribune reported. The laws also limits what personal information a social media platform can collect from minors, according to the newspaper.

“We think social media is a contributing factor,” McKell told The New York Times in a telephone interview on Thursday. “We want to tackle that issue.”

Republican Rep. Jordan Teuscher introduced HB311, which blocks social media companies from implementing a “design or feature” that would cause a minor to become addicted to the platform, the Tribune reported. Companies found in violation of the law could face fines or lawsuits, according to the newspaper.

Other states, such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio and Texas have similar bills that are being debated, according to The Associated Press.

Utah’s new legislation will go into effect on March 1, 2024, CNN reported.

The legislation has been opposed by tech industry groups and civil liberties experts, the Times reported.

Sarah Coyne, a professor of child development at Brigham Young University, told the newspaper that the new laws could inadvertently increase mental health issues for youths who saw social media as a way to get support from similarly minded minors.

“We know that marginalized youth, such as LGBTQ kids, use social media in some really important ways to find belonging and support, especially when they don’t have family support,” Coyne told the Times. “So if you’ve got a 17-year-old who is really struggling with mental health turning to social media to find a place to belong, and their parents are cutting it off or looking at their messages, that can have a really significant negative impact.”

Cox countered that no restrictions on social media “is killing our kids.”

“It’s the addictive qualities of social media that are intentionally being placed by these companies to get our kids addicted, and they know it’s harming them,” Cox told reporters during a March 16 news conference, according to the Tribune.

On Thursday, Cox tweeted that “we’re no longer willing to let social media companies continue to harm the mental health of our youth.”

“When it comes down to it, (the bill) is about protecting our children,” McKell said in a statement to CNN. “As a lawmaker and parent, I believe this bill is the best path forward to prevent our children from succumbing to the negative and sometimes life-threatening effects of social media.”

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