Recently, a new bill called the Utah Social Media Regulation Act was signed into law which prohibits Utah children under the age of 18 from going on TikTik and other social media sites between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. The bill also blocks children from using social media platforms without their parents’ consent. It is supposed to address the impacts that social media has on teen’s mental health and fight cyberbullying and child sexual exploitation.
The timing is also of no consequence as on the same day the bill was signed, the CEO TikTok’s CEO testified before Congress about TikTok’s effects on mental health. Also, similar legislatures have been passed in the last year in states like California and Arkansas. The Arkansas Legislature has introduced a similar bill that would require social network platforms to verify users’ ages and obtain explicit parental consent for people under 18.
Recently, controversy has been surrounding the new Utah bill signed into law, especially with concerns of how it will be enforced without violating teen’s privacy. Concerns spread about how these bills are not respecting the rights of minors. Also, many social media networks already put in place a 13 and up policy, but this policy is relatively easy to surpass. “Young people will find workarounds. They’ll figure it out,” says Jennifer Grygiel, a communications professor at Syracuse University who researches social media.
In today’s time, social media is a primary way of reaching youth and spreading important information. Sarah Coyne. a professor of child development at Brigham Young University, warned that the measure could inadvertently boomerang, increasing youth mental health issues by cutting off vulnerable youth from important sources of information and support that could be found on social media networks.
The bill is set to take effect in March 2024, but it is expected that there will be pushback from BigTech companies. There are also arguments claiming that it is unconstitutional and a breach of privacy by tech lobbyists. “Utah will soon require online services to collect sensitive information about teens and families, not only to verify ages, but to verify parental relationships, like government-issued IDs and birth certificates, putting their private data at risk of breach,” said Nicole Saad Bembridge, an associate director at NetChoice, a tech lobby group.