Utah is a new pioneer, becoming the first state in the United States to require social media firms to obtain parental consent for children to use their apps and verify all users are at least 18.
A bold step to take
As reported by the BBC, In a move likely to be watched closely by others, the state of Utah has become the first in the United States to require social media firms to obtain parental consent for children to use their apps and verify all users are at least 18.
In announcing the move, the governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, said he had signed the two sweeping measures to protect young people in the state. The two bills will give parents full access to their children’s online accounts, including posts and private messages in a move that will be seen to be revolutionary by some and controversial by others.
The move comes amidst heightened concern over the impact of social media on children’s mental health.
What do the bills demand?
Under the measures enacted on Thursday, March 23rd, 2023, a parent or guardian’s explicit consent will be needed before children can create accounts on apps such as Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. The bills also impose a social media curfew that blocks children’s access between 22:30 and 06:30 unless manually adjusted by their parents on the account settings
Under the legislation, social media companies will no longer be able to collect a child’s data or be targeted for advertising.
The two bills, which are also designed to make it easier to take legal action against social media companies, will come into effect on March 1st, 2024.
Governor Spencer Cox, a Republican, writing on Twitter, said,
“We’re no longer willing to let social media companies continue to harm the mental health of our youth. As leaders, and parents, we have a responsibility to protect our young people.”
How has the news been received?
US-based children’s advocacy group Commons Sense Media welcomed the governor’s move to curtail some of social media’s most addictive features, calling it a “huge victory for kids and families in Utah“.
Announcing his welcome to the new legislation, Jim Steyer, Common Sense Media’s founder and CEO, said,
“It adds momentum for other states to hold social media companies accountable to ensure kids across the country are protected online.”
Similar regulations are being considered in four other Republican-led states (Arkansas, Texas, Ohio and Louisiana) in addition to Democratic-led New Jersey.
But Common Sense Media and other advocacy groups warned some parts of the new legislation could put children at risk. Ari Z Cohn, a free speech lawyer for TechFreedom, said,
“The bill poses significant free speech problems. There are so many children who might be in abusive households who might be LGBT, who could be cut-off from social media entirely.”
In response, Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said it has robust tools to keep children safe. A spokesperson for Meta told the BBC,
“We’ve developed more than 30 tools to support teens and families, including tools that let parents and teens work together to limit the amount of time teens spend on Instagram, and age verification technology that helps teens have age-appropriate experiences.”
Other supporters of the bill
There have been other US bipartisan support for social media legislation aimed at protecting children. President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address in February called for laws banning tech companies from collecting data on children.
Last year, California state lawmakers passed their own child data law. Among other measures, the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act requires digital platforms to make the highest privacy features for under-18 users a default setting.
The passage of the Utah bills coincides with a bruising congressional hearing for TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew. Mr Chew recently faced questioning regarding how TikTok works, its collection and retention of users’ data and its supposed links to the Chinese government.
During the session, and possibly most telling, Mr Chew (who lives with his family in Singapore) revealed that his children are not permitted to have access to the social media platform.
What do you think of the move by the state of Utah? Do you believe that others will follow Utah’s lead? Let us know in the comments.