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Utah Governor will sign bill restricting kids' access to social media

By Elizabeth Delaney
|
March 17, 2023

Governor Spencer Cox of Utah is taking steps to force social media companies to be more proactive about protecting children from the potential harm that it can cause them.

Cox said he will "absolutely" sign Utah Senate Bill 152 into law as soon as it hits his desk, according to The Hill.

Brief summary of the bill

The bill's language requires social media companies to put measures in place that will verify that users are 18 years or older before they can open an account.

Those who are under the age of 18 will need to obtain the permission of a parent or guardian.

Social media companies have until March 1st, 2024 to implement the verification measures, and Cox said he will be involved with efforts between the social media companies and third-party verification companies to make that happen.

Besides age verification, the new law would also require social media companies to provide parents or guardians with access to the account of a minor, according to Hunton Andrews Kurth Cybersecurity.

Social media companies would also be prohibited from aiming ads at minors, and from using, collecting, or sharing information from the account of a minor.

A similar bill on Cox's desk, Utah House Bill 311, prohibits social media companies from, "using a design or feature that causes a minor to have an addiction to the company's social media platform," according to The Hill.

Deadline for Cox to sign or veto bills

Cox has until March 23rd to sign bills into law or choose to veto them. If they aren't signed into law by then, then they automatically become law in Utah, according to KSL News Radio.

Utah Senate Bill 152 and Utah House Bill 311 are two of 575 bills the Utah state congress passed during their session this year.

As of Tuesday, Cox had already signed a total of 278 bills into law.

Cox anticipates legal challenges

"Will there be legal challenges [in regard to the social media bills]? Absolutely there’s going to be legal challenges. We understand that. That has been clear from the beginning," Cox told The Hill.

At the same time, Cox believes that the State of Utah has a good chance of winning any suit that is filed against it, or that it may choose to file.

Cox believes case law that presently exists has been, "wrongly decided, especially in light of the fact that we have new facts about the internet and about these social media platforms that were not available when those cases were decided.”

That being said, he and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes are prepared to put up a fight.

During a news conference on Jan. 23 in front of the Utah state Capitol, Cox and Reyes said they believed that social media was having a negative impact on the mental health and well-being of young people by being an unhelpful distraction, interfering with sleep schedules, and providing content that harms them, according to Axios.

Cox and Reyes are taking steps to gather outside counsel that will be able to come alongside of them for any possible future law suits.

On the federal level, Rep. Chris Stewart (UT-02) has announced that he plans to introduce federal legislation during the federal session that would make it illegal for social media companies to provide an account to anyone who is below the age of 16, according to ABC4.