US state limits social media access for teens
Utah has become the first US state to make parental permission mandatory for teenagers wanting to use social media apps in a bid to protect young people. Governor Spencer Cox signed two bills on Thursday, restricting minors’ access to popular apps such as Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.
The law will require social media companies to obtain parental consent before allowing under-18s to create accounts on their apps and will grant parents full access to their children’s online accounts, including posts and private messages.
Social media companies will also be banned from advertising to minors and prohibited from employing techniques that could cause them to develop an “addiction” to the platforms. They will also be forbidden from collecting information about, or targeting content at, minors.
The legislation introduces a social media curfew that would block children from accessing apps between 10:30pm and 6:30am, unless this is adjusted by their parents. The law is expected to come into effect on March 1, 2024, and social media companies that fail to comply could face both civil and criminal penalties.
“Youth rates of depression and other mental health issues are on the rise, and social media companies know their products are toxic. They design their apps to be addictive,” said Governor Cox in a Twitter post, adding that “as leaders, and parents, we have a responsibility to protect our young people.”
The legislation has been welcomed by children’s rights advocates, with Common Sense Media describing it as a “huge victory for the kids and families in Utah.” It also expressed hope that other states would follow suit and hold social media companies accountable.
However, the legislation does not specify how the new laws might be enforced, and critics suggest that age verification could pose a major risk for online security, free speech, and anonymity.
A spokesperson for Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, responded to the bill by stating that the company had already developed over 30 tools to “support teens and families,” including mechanisms that allow parents to limit the amount of time teens spend on Meta’s apps, as well as age-verification technology that filters content accessed by minors.