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Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox Passes New Social Media Restrictions For Minors

Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox passed two laws on March 23 that place restrictions on social media for children under the age of 18. The primary purpose of the bills is to hold social media companies responsible for the harm to children’s mental health and to prevent children from being targeted by addictive advertisements.

Senate Bill 152 and House Bill 311 make Utah the first state to restrict youth’s usage of social media and will take effect on March 1, 2024. This article is going to discuss Utah’s Senate Bill 152 and House Bill 311, along with other efforts that are being made across the United States to increase online safety for kids.

“We’re no longer willing to let social media companies continue to harm the mental health of our youth,” said Gov. Cox on Twitter. “Today, we signed two key bills in our fight against social media companies into law.”

Utah’s Senate Bill 152 and House Bill 152

Senate Bill 152 requires that social media companies get parental or guardian consent for users under 18, allows parents full access to their kid's accounts, and prohibits kids from using their social media accounts between 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.

Moreover, House Bill 311 defines the penalties for social media companies. In addition, this includes a $250,000 fine for companies using addictive design features and $2,500 per child exposed to the addictive design. House Bill 311 makes it easier for parents or guardians to sue social media companies for any harm done to their kids financially, physically, or emotionally.

“Youth rates of depression and other mental health issues are on the rise because of social media companies. As leaders, and parents, we have a responsibility to protect our young people,” said Gov. Cox on Twitter.


Other endeavors to ensure social media safe for children

In this year's State of the Union Address, President Joe Biden asked Congress and lawmakers to crack down on social media platforms responsible for any harm to children's mental health.

“We must finally hold social media companies accountable for the experiment they are running on our children for profit,” said President Biden. “And it’s time to pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on kids and teenagers online, ban targeted advertising to children, and impose stricter limits on the personal data these companies collect on all of us.”

Many people across the country have started legal battles with big tech companies like TikTok, Google, Youtube, etc.

According to an article posted on The74, “At least eleven school districts, one county, and one California county system that oversees 23 smaller districts have filed suits this year, representing roughly 469,000 students.”

“Schools, states, and Americans across the country are rightly pushing back against Big Tech putting profits over kids’ safety online,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal to The 74. “These efforts, proliferated by harrowing stories from families amid a worsening youth mental health crisis, underscore the urgency for Congress to act.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., was a sponsor of the Kids Online Safety Act of 2022 (KOSA), along with Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., that was created to provide a better online experience for kids. KOSA would require social media companies to offer ways of protecting minors’ information, disable any addictive design features, and allow children to opt out of any algorithmic recommendations. Even though this bill received unanimous support from the committee, it didn’t clear the Senate. However, members of Congress are still making efforts to increase online safety for minors.

Other states have tried passing bills that set restrictions on kids' social media usage. For example, Florida introduced the Digital Bill of Rights in February that was designed to protect the digital rights and privacy of all Florida residents from overreach from big tech companies,  eliminate unfair censorship, and to protect children from online harms.

Additionally, lawmakers aim for social media platforms regarding children’s mental health. For Instance, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was intensively questioned by Congress about TikTok’s data security and children's exposure to harmful content and addictive ads. Chew’s testimony coincided with Cox’s announcement about signing the bills.

Reaction to Utah’s bills

On Thursday, March 23, a nonprofit organization that focuses on kids tech advocacy called Common Sense Media released a statement about Utah’s social media regulations.

"Today's signing of HB 311 is a huge victory for kids and families in Utah,” said Founder and CEO Of Common Sense Media Jim Steyer. “And this law adds momentum for other states to hold social media companies accountable to ensure kids across the country are protected online.”

Like many children's advocacy groups, Common Sense Media supported the bills. However, Steyer later expresses his concerns about Senate Bill 152.

"Unfortunately, Governor Cox also signed SB 152 into law, which would give parents access to their minor children's posts and all the messages they send and receive. This would deprive kids of the online privacy protections we advocate for,” said Steyer. “The law also requires age verification and parental consent for minors to create a social media account, which doesn't get to the root of the problem– kids and teens will still be exposed to companies' harmful data collection and design practices once they are on the platform.”

To conclude, Utah passing Senate Bill 152 and House Bill 311 is just the start of the United States making advancements to place restrictions on children’s social media usage.

Pictures are provided by Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox’s Twitter account.

Edited by Whitney Edna Ibe


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Tags: #socialmedia #MentalHealth #TikTok #PresidentBiden #Utah #TheUnitedStates


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