Fri 24 March 2023:
Utah became the first US state on Thursday to require social media companies to obtain parental approval for accounts held by minors, placing additional responsibility on services like Instagram and TikTok to confirm the age of their users.
The law, which becomes operative in March 2024, was introduced in response to worries about the rising youth social media addiction as well as security risks like online bullying, exploitation, and the gathering of children’s personal information.
But it has prompted warnings from tech firms and civil liberties groups that it could curtail access to online resources for marginalized teens, and have far-reaching implications for free speech.
“We’re no longer willing to let social media companies continue to harm the mental health of our youth,” tweeted Spencer Cox, governor of the western US state, who signed two related bills at a ceremony Thursday.
The bills also require social media firms to grant parents full access to their children’s accounts, and to create a default “curfew” blocking overnight access to children’s accounts.
They set out fines for social media companies if they target users under 18 with “addictive algorithms,” and make it easier for parents to sue social media companies for financial, physical or emotional harm.
“We hope that this is just the first step in many bills that we’ll see across the nation, and hopefully taken on by the federal government,” said state representative Jordan Teuscher, who co-sponsored the bill.
Michael McKell, a Republican member of Utah’s Senate who also sponsored the bill, said it was a “bipartisan” effort, and praised President Joe Biden’s recent State of the Union address, in which he raised the issue.
McKell cited statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the Utah ceremony on Thursday, claiming that they showed the negative effects social media apps can have on children’s developing minds.
The impact on our daughters — and I have two daughters — it was incredibly troubling,” he said.
“Thirty percent of our daughters from ninth grade to 12th grade had seriously contemplated suicide. That’s startling.”
Last month, Biden urged US lawmakers to impose limits on the advertising to children and data collection practices of social media companies, alleging that Big Tech was subjecting the country’s children to a “for profit” experiment.
The Utah law goes further than the laws that have already been passed in California, which include strict default privacy settings for minors.
State legislators in states like Ohio and Connecticut are drafting legislation along these lines.
Parental controls like messaging restrictions and time limits have been added to platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
SOURCE: INDEPENDENT PRESS AND NEWS AGENCIES
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