Utah law could dramatically limit teens’ access to social media

A new law in the state of Utah could dramatically limit teenagers’ access to social media platforms. It requires anyone under 18 to get parental consent to join social media platforms, forces platforms to give parents access to children’s posts and messages and sets a social media curfew for minors. Geoff Bennett discussed the law with Utah State Sen. Mike McKell, who introduced the legislation.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    A new law in the state of Utah could dramatically limit teenagers' access to social media platforms. The law, which is the first of its kind in the nation, requires anyone under 18 to get parental consent to join social media platforms.

    It forces those platforms to give parents access to the children's posts and messages, and it sets a social media curfew for minors. It's scheduled to go into effect next year.

    Republican Utah State Senator Mike McKell introduced the legislation and joins us now.

    Thank you for being with us.

  • State Sen. Mike McKell (R-UT):

    Thanks for having me on.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Most of us parents are concerned about the ways in which social media affects our kids, from the content to which they're exposed, to the ways it might affect their ability to socialize normally.

    Why was this sweeping set of restrictions necessary? What was the motivation behind it?

  • State Sen. Mike McKell:

    The concerns you have as a parent are the same concerns I have.

    As we look at the data, social media is having a devastating impact on our kids. We have a mental health crisis in America today. It's interesting. This is a very big bipartisan issue. President Biden, in his State of the Union address, he jumped in really, really strong, and he said, look, we need to stop this experiment on our kids. We need to stop allowing big tech to collect data on our kids. We need to stop letting big data target our kids with targeted advertisement.

    And it was ironic, because all of those things were in our bill in state of Utah. And, as you look at what we're doing and what our congressional delegations are doing, both Republicans and Democrats, I think we're all in line.

    We see a very big problem with mental health. It's a crisis that's getting worse. We think social media has a lot to do with it, and that's why we care. I'm a father of four kids. I still have two teenagers at home, and I worry about it. I worry about it every day.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    The tech industry opposes this law. Perhaps that's no surprise. But so too do civil liberties groups that say it infringes upon people's First Amendment rights.

    There are other concerns, that the age verification mandate, they don't just affect children, but it affects millions of people who don't have government-issued I.D.s. There are also concerns about what happens to that data in the event of a security breach.

    How do you respond to that host of criticism and concern?

  • State Sen. Mike McKell:

    The age verification, that's nothing new.

    For example, we do verification for dating sites. You have got millions of Americans who buy prescription drugs online. We do age verification for that. It's nothing new. We really want to get out in front of it. I know we have heard that there are some First Amendment concerns.

    What we don't do in the legislation is, we don't moderate content. What we simply say is that we're going to verify your age, and we're going to have some restrictions for minors. We have lots of restrictions for minors today. We verified age for minors all across the spectrum with different products.

    And I think it — I think this is a step that makes a lot of sense. It's there to help empower parents to have tools necessary to help monitor and make sure this product is a product that's used appropriately for our kids.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    How will the state enforce these new regulations? Because that wasn't clear to me in reading the legislation.

  • State Sen. Mike McKell:

    Two ways.

    First of all, we allow some enforcement through our Division of Consumer Protection, and I think that's an important tool. In our legislation, the Division of Consumer Protection is going to take the next eight months to a year to develop what that looks like, working with big tech, that verification process.

    Our verification process, one of the things we are really clear is, it couldn't be limited to government I.D. and that there had to be other options available. The other way that we will enforce this legislation is through a private right of action. It's in the legislation.

    For example, if a social media company decided to collect data on our kids or do targeted advertisement to our kids, parents could join together and bring a private right of action. And that's a powerful tool. And I think the social media companies will comply.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    It seems that you have very little faith that these social media apps can ever get better or ever be safe for kids. Am I wrong in that?

  • State Sen. Mike McKell:

    No, you're not wrong on that.

    And let me just jump back to some CDC data that came out earlier this year; 17,000 kids were surveyed. These were ninth graders through 12 graders. And we have a serious mental health crisis. And let me throw you out — throw out a couple of points that I think are important; 30 percent of our girls seriously contemplated suicide in that survey; 57 percent of our girls had sustained feelings of loneliness and depression.

    We have a serious problem. That problem is almost like a hockey stick. It's gotten some substantially worse since 2009, 2010, when social media came online. All the research that I see points to social media as a big part of that problem.

    For that reason, I'm not comfortable simply saying, fix social media. I think they have had their chance. I think they have failed. And I think it's time for Congress and states across this nation to take action.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Republican Utah State Senator Mike McKell, thanks for being with us.

  • State Sen. Mike McKell:

    Thank you for having me on.

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