On Thursday, Utah’s governor signed two bills into law aimed at protecting underage social media users in the state. However, critics argue that the new laws’ constitutional legality and enforcement remain troublingly murky. H.B. 311 and S.B. 152 would make any social media companies with over 10 million users age-verify all Utah residents and require parental consent from minors who want to make a profile.
In addition to mandating that social media platforms grant parents full access to their children’s posts and private messages, the legislation also enforces a curfew on the usage of social media by underage residents of Utah, which is set from 10:30 PM to 6:30 AM. While the regulations are slated to come into effect by March 2024, it remains uncertain whether they will endure legal analysis.
Digital rights advocates at the Electronic Frontier Foundation argued in a letter sent to Gov. Spencer Cox earlier this month that Utah’s bills are some of the most egregious they’ve seen so far. Other states, including Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Ohio, and New Jersey, are considering similar legislation.
Utah’s legislation has sparked a debate amongst privacy advocates who contend that the ID verification requirements will paradoxically grant social media companies greater access to users’ confidential information. Additionally, the overarching language of the laws may disadvantage numerous young Utahans by restricting access to information. EFF alleges that Duolingo and AllTrails, among other applications, may also be subjected to the new access limitations.
Evan Greer, director for online privacy group Fight for the Future, agreed there are “very real harms” to youth from social media companies, but contended that those problems would be better addressed by cracking down on abusive corporate practices rather than “draconian” restrictions for young people. Greer said these restrictions could disproportionately harm LGBTQ+ children and those suffering from abusive environments, but overall it could harm teens in general. Instead of Utah’s latest examples, Greer and likeminded advocates contend politicians should push to pass comprehensive privacy legislation.
Social media companies are currently preparing lawsuits against these two new laws that are going into effect in Utah.