Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed two bills into law Thursday that would impose sweeping restrictions that aim to curtail kid and teen use of social media apps such as Instagram and TikTok — a move that proponents say will protect them from the detrimental effects of internet platforms.
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The measures force social media companies to verify that users who are Utah residents are over the age of 18. The law also requires platforms to obtain parental consent to let their kids use the services as well as give them access to their child’s account and set a default curfew setting.
The new Utah regulations amount to one of the most aggressive laws passed by any state to curb the use of social media by young people at a time when experts have been raising alarm bells about the worsening mental health among American adolescents. The new law arrives at a time when Congress has struggled to pass stricter online child safety bills despite bipartisan concern about the effects social media on kids.
“We’re no longer willing to let social media companies continue to harm the mental health of our youth,” Cox tweeted Thursday. “Utah’s leading the way in holding social media companies accountable — and we’re not slowing down anytime soon.”
The bill’s passage also coincided with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s first appearance before Congress, during which he faced extensive grilling by lawmakers who say they are worried about he extraordinarily popular video app was hurting the welfare of kids. They also said it represented a national security threat because it is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance.
The law puts Utah on a collision course with the tech industry, which has sued to block a number of state laws regulating social media companies. The industry last year sued to bar another children’s safety law in California, arguing that the law runs afoul of the First Amendment.
Industry groups have signaled they have similar First Amendment concerns about the Utah law. Netchoice vice president and general counsel Carl Szabo said the group was still evaluating next steps on the Utah law and talking to other allies in the tech industry.
In the past, Netchoice has teamed up with industry groups to challenge social media laws in Florida and Texas. “This law violates the First Amendment by infringing on adults’ lawful access to constitutionally-protected speech while mandating massive data collection and tracking of all Utahns,” Szabo said.
Tech companies such as Meta, TikTok and Snapchat have increasingly been tailoring their services to offer more parental control and moderation for minors in the wake of criticism that their platforms are addicting and expose young people to toxic content.