The Utah governor has recently signed a bill that is causing controversy, as it mandates minors to secure the consent of a guardian prior to accessing social media platforms.
An Aggressive Initiative
This bill, called the Utah Social Media Regulation Act, is regarded as the most aggressive initiative taken by state or federal lawmakers to safeguard children's online experience. Under the Utah Social Media Regulation Act, social media platforms are mandated to conduct age verification processes for all Utah residents.
The bill also bans all advertisements targeted at minors and imposes a curfew period from 10:30 pm to 6:30 am, making it inaccessible to anyone under 18. Furthermore, parents will be granted access to their teens' accounts. This legislation, introduced by Republican Senator Michael McKell and approved by Republican Governor Spencer Cox, will take effect on March 1, 2024.
Pushing for Regulations
For years, tech giants and industry experts have urged the US government to enact regulations that would enhance the safety of minors using social media platforms. However, concerns were raised about the implications of the Utah Social Media Regulation Act before its approval. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital rights organization, the legislation's specific guidelines pose a threat to user privacy and could compromise the security of user data, making internet access less private and infringing on the fundamental rights of younger users.
“The use of social media is a lifeline for many young people, providing community, education, and conversation, among other things,” said Jason Kelley, the director of activism at the EFF. “They use it, in part, because it can be a private space…This law, which restricts social media access and requires parental consent and monitoring for minors, will adversely affect young people's ability to protect their privacy and discourage them from exercising their rights.”
Lucy Ivey, an 18-year-old TikTok influencer attending Utah Valley University, echoed similar concerns. She pointed out that some of her LGBTQ friends may face challenges due to the changes that the bill will bring. “My concern with this bill is that it will take away teenagers' privacy, and many kids don't have good relationships with their parents or a reliable guardian to grant them access to social media,” she told CNN. “I think of my LGBTQ friends, some of whom have had a tough time with their parents because of their sexuality or identity. They could lose an essential place where they can express themselves, be seen, and be heard.”
Ivey, who launched a publication called Our Era at the age of 15 and promoted its content on TikTok, also expressed concern about the impact of the bill on content creators like herself. If a legal guardian disagrees with a teenager's online activity or digital presence, such individuals may have to put their accounts on hold until they turn 18 years old.
Protecting The Children
Senator Michael McKell emphasized the significance of the bill, stating that it is essential to safeguard children from the adverse effects of social media. He added that depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation have drastically increased among teenagers in Utah and the United States, making it necessary to implement preventive measures.
US lawmakers have been calling for new safeguards to protect young people online for years due to concerns about social platforms leading younger users down harmful rabbit holes, fostering new forms of bullying and harassment, and contributing to the mental health crisis among teens in the country. However, no federal legislation has been passed to date.
Utah is the first state to introduce such proposals, and other states, such as Connecticut and Ohio, are following suit by proposing legislation that would require social media firms to obtain parental approval before allowing users under 16 years of age to join.
Michael Inouye, an analyst at ABI Research, predicted that more states could follow in Utah's footsteps, and similar legislation could be introduced. If enough states implement such laws, he believes that there may be a more concerted effort at the federal level to codify these state laws under a nationwide policy.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.