US state enacts tough laws to restrict social media use by minors

By our News Team | 2023

Utah is the first state to heavily curb minors’ access to social media, but others may follow with even stricter laws.

As civil society and legislators around the world become increasingly concerned about the negative impacts of social media on young people, particularly minors, the US state of Utah has passed laws prohibiting anyone under 18 from accessing social platforms without the explicit consent of their parents.

Social media companies are also prohibited from using any techniques that may cause minors to ‘develop an addition’ to these platforms.

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Utah thus becomes the first state in the US to enact such legislation, but it is possible that other states governed by the (more conservative) Republican Party could follow suit. Arkansas and Texas are already heading in this direction, with Texas wanting a complete ban on minors using social media.

The Utah laws were passed last week despite opposition from civil liberties groups. They come into effect in March 2024.

Parents can access all their children’s posts

The new laws prevent under 18s from accessing social media without their parents’ consent and also allows parents or guardians to access all of their children’s posts. The social media platforms are required to block users younger than 18 from accessing accounts between 10.30pm and 6.30am, unless parents modify the settings.

Social media companies may also not advertise to minors, collect information about them, or target content at them.

Utah’s laws complement – and in some cases duplicate – federal (national) laws that already prevent the information of children under 13 from being collected. The social platforms also already prevent children under 13 from signing up, although experts point out that there are many ways to circumvent these restrictions.

According to Michael McKell, the Utah state senator who sponsored the bill, social media is a contributing factor to poor teen mental health and the laws are intended to address this issue.

The respected Mayo Clinic, social media use can also negatively affect young people by distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, rumour spreading, unrealistic views of other people’s lives and peer pressure. The clinic does, however, also point out that there can be benefits – including helping those who experience exclusion or have disabilities or chronic illnesses.