Protecting Utah’s Youth From Harms of Social Media

February 5, 2024

Today, Sen. Mike Mckell, Sen. Kirk Cullimore, Rep. Jordan Teuscher and Rep. Jay Cobb announced enhanced legislation to protect youth from the harms of social media and empower families with resources to keep children safe. Utah is leading the nation with landmark legislation that helps safeguard kids and teens from the growing mental health crisis tied to the rise in social media addiction.

In Utah, 88% of parents believe social media has a detrimental impact on children and youth, and nearly half of teens nationwide, ages 13 to 17, said using social media makes them feel worse. A staggering 53% of teen girls in Utah have persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, a 61% increase since the invention of social media. Additionally, there is a strong relationship between screen time, lack of sleep, thoughts of suicide and substance use. 

S.B. 194 Social Media Regulation Amendments focuses on platform safety for and parental engagement with minors by:

  • Enacting a strict age verification process in order to create a safer experience for minors.
  • Disabling certain addictive product features for minor accounts.
  • Requiring default robust privacy settings for minors.
  • Prohibiting social media companies from sharing or selling minor’s data without parental consent.
  • Providing parents or legal guardians with supervision tools for minors’s accounts.

“We won’t stand by while social media companies continue to exploit kids,” said Sen. McKell. “Social media companies know the harm they are inflicting on our youth’s mental health – and we’re not going to look away. Utah will continue to lead out on protecting youth and providing parents with tools and resources. This is an unprecedented issue we’re dealing with, and it requires novel legislation.”

H.B. 464 Social Media Regulation Act Amendments addresses the harmful addictive algorithms that social media companies deploy on children in Utah. The bill:

  • Gives minors and their parents or legal guardians the ability to hold social media companies liable for the harm addictive algorithms have caused children through a private right of action.
  • Allows social media companies to legally overcome the assumption that their products cause harm if they:
    • Obtain parental consent for a minor’s use of the platform
    • Remove addictive features and display content chronologically
    • Limit a minor’s time on the platform

“Our number one goal is to protect minors from the harmful impacts of social media,” said Rep. Teuscher. “H.B. 464 and S.B. 194 put important safeguards in place to protect Utah’s children and gives social media companies time to comply. Utah will continue to lead the nation in finding innovative solutions to complex challenges.”

Social media companies designed their platforms to addict users – including children – to increase profits. This is a national, bipartisan issue, and Utah has led the way. Congress recently held hearings to question social media CEOs. While they are at step one in the process, Utah is leaps and bounds ahead – already working toward solutions and establishing guardrails to protect minors. 

“As a father of six children, I have seen social media’s negative impact on kids firsthand,” said Sen. Cullimore. “We’ve shown time and time again that Utah deeply cares about youth mental health. We’re committed to getting this right and finding ways to protect our youth from dangerous algorithms, data collection and the overall detrimental effects of social media.”

The Legislature has worked with the Utah Department of Commerce, the Attorney General’s Office, the Office of Families and stakeholders to review and enhance the Utah Social Media Regulation Act. S.B. 194 and H.B. 464 are important continuations of the state’s efforts.

“Social media has caused extreme harm to youth,” said Rep. Cobb. “We are going to take every step necessary to curb those negative impacts and ensure social media companies stop taking advantage of Utah’s children.”

Learn more about S.B. 194 and H.B. 464 below.

By the Numbers:

  •  88% of Utah parents believe social media has a detrimental impact on children and youth, and 32.5% of Utah youth felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or more in a row during the past year.
  • Teens who spend more than 3 hours per day on social media face double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes.
  • Nearly half of teens ages 13 to 17 said using social media makes them feel worse
  • 63% of Utah parents were concerned about social media impacting their child’s mental health. 
  • 18% of Utah youth seriously considered suicide in the past year.
  • Only 38% of Utah teens are getting at least eight hours of sleep on an average school night.
  • Nationally, almost 60% of teen girls say they’ve been contacted on social media by a stranger in ways that made them feel uncomfortable.

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