Utah Legislature passes regulations on social media companies aimed at protecting minors
This week, the Utah Legislature passed two bills that would establish the Utah Social Media Regulation Act and regulate social media usage affecting youth in the state.
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The House passed an amended version of Senate Bill 152 on Wednesday, which would require social media companies to verify the age of users and obtain parental consent to create accounts for minors.
On Thursday, the Senate passed House Bill 311, prohibiting social media companies from utilizing features that promote addiction to their platform among minors.
“[HB 311] is one of the two social media bills,” said the bill’s co-sponsor Sen. Kirk Cullimore (R – Sandy), speaking on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “This bill aims to empower parents to safeguard children and then fight back against addictive algorithms and hold social media companies responsible for those damages.
It does this by authorizing a private right of action, [in] which a litigant can collect attorneys’ fees, damages from a social media company for harm incurred in relation to a violation of the requirements established by this act.”
Cullimore said the addictive or harmful materials targeting youth and children that are produced by social media companies need to be held to the same safety standards and restrictions as other household products and forms of entertainment.
HB 311 establishes the legal presumption that within a private right of action, any minor under the age of 16 is presumed to be harmed and the social media company has the burden to prove that there was in fact no harm. The bill also prohibits minors from entering into any online contract without parental consent.
Both bills now head to Gov. Spencer Cox for approval. In January, Cox announced the state would take legal actions against social media firms to address the harm that social media platforms are having on the state’s youth. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said at the time of the announcement that the state has been investigating social media technology companies on claims it has received but no specific actions have been filed yet.
Leading up to the current session, Cox has been vocal about the harms of social media on youth mental health. The governor hosted a symposium on Social Media and Youth Mental Health on Jan. 23rd that outlined legislative efforts to mitigate the harm.
“We know that social media is negatively affecting teens, distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, harmful behavior, unrealistic views of other people’s lives, and peer pressure,” Cox said following the symposium. “We know that social media is linked with higher levels of anxiety, depression, and self-harm.”
The state’s suicide rate has tripled over the last year, with suicide being the number one cause of death for Utahns 10 to 17 years of age, according to the Utah Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
DHHS reports that 40 youths die from suicide and nearly 2,000 wind up in emergency rooms to be treated for a mental health crisis each year. Utah has witnessed a 300% increase in pediatric mental health crisis visits for emergency departments over the last decade.
The CDC recently released its Youth Risk and Behavior Survey, which showed that 16% of high school students were electronically bullied through texting or social media.
It also found that 30% of high school-aged girls had contemplated attempting suicide, 60% had persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, and nearly 20% experienced rape or other sexual violence.