Efforts to curb youth social media use clear Utah Legislature, await governor’s signature

Mar 2, 2023, 2:19 PM | Updated: 2:19 pm
(KSL TV)...

SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers approved a pair of major social media regulations this week, requiring parental consent for minors to create social accounts and making it easier to sue social media companies for alleged damages to teens.

Social media regulation has been a priority for the Utah Legislature all session, after Gov. Spencer Cox called for strong action against tech companies in January, citing declining trends in teen mental health in recent years. Cox later announced he plans to sue social media companies, comparing them to tobacco companies.

Two social media regulations that have been the subject of intense negotiation throughout the session received final approval this week, and are expected to be signed by Cox.

The first, sponsored by Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork — who is Cox’s brother-in-law — would require that minors get parental consent to sign up for social media, starting March 1, 2024. In order to prevent minors from creating accounts without their parents’ approval, it would also require companies to verify the ages of all users in Utah.

McKell said SB152 — which passed Wednesday — prevents companies from relying solely on government-issued IDs to verify age, after some expressed concern about data privacy. Companies would instead have to rely on other technologies such as facial recognition or existing consumer data to confirm that their users meet the age requirements.

Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, who is the House sponsor of SB152, called the bill a “trident,” with provisions including parental consent and controls, advertising and data collection limitations, and consumer education.

In addition to requiring that minor accounts be tethered to a parent’s account, the bill mandates that parents have full access to their kids’ accounts, and requires other parental controls such as screen time limits.

SB152 would also treat minor accounts differently than adult accounts, by limiting their appearance in search results, disabling direct messaging with certain accounts, preventing the collection of minors’ data and prohibiting targeted advertising toward minors.

Teuscher said the bill will “empower” parents to help their kids develop healthy habits on social media platforms. He told House colleagues Wednesday that social media “really has a lot of great benefits, but is causing significant harm.”

SB152 comes with a fiscal note of nearly $280,000 in one-time funds and $220,000 in ongoing funds for the Division of Consumer Protection to investigate and enforce violations of the bill.

Teuscher ran a social media regulation bill of his own, that creates a private right of action for individuals to sue social media companies for alleged harm to teens. HB311 was approved Thursday morning.

The bill makes it easier for people to sue social media companies for damages, by creating a legal presumption that social media is harmful to teens. Under the bill, companies would have the burden of proof to demonstrate that their products are not harmful to teens — a potentially high legal bar to clear.

HB311 also prohibits algorithms or other features that a company knows to cause a minor to become addicted to social media. Teuscher’s bill is expected to cost $181,000 in one-time funds and $220,000 in ongoing funds for enforcement.

Both bills were amended in recent days to bring their language and definitions in line with one another.

If signed by Cox, the regulations will go into effect on March 1, 2024.

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Efforts to curb youth social media use clear Utah Legislature, await governor’s signature