Utah has become the first US state to require parental permission for anyone under 18 to use social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and Facebook.
Governor Spencer Cox on Thursday signed two Bills into law that are intended to restrict social media use by minors and to make it easier to sue social media companies for damages. The two Bills were passed earlier this month by Utah’s Republican-controlled legislature.
The impact of social media on children has been the subject of a growing national debate in the United States, where service providers are largely protected from liability over their content under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
“We’re no longer willing to let social media companies continue to harm the mental health of our youth,” Mr Cox, a Republican, said in a message on Twitter.
The Bills, which the tech industry opposes, requires all users to submit age verification before opening a social media account. Minors under the age of 18 seeking an exception would need permission from a parent.
Mr Cox also signed a second Bill on Thursday that will prohibit social media companies from employing features or design techniques that could cause a minor to form an “addiction” to their online platforms.
The new measures will also require social networks to give Utah parents access to their children’s posts, messages and responses. They will also require social media services to block Utah minors from accessing their accounts from 10.30pm to 6.30am, a default setting that only a parent or guardian will be able to modify.
Michael K McKell, a Republican member of the Utah Senate who sponsored the Bill, said the statute was intended to address a “mental health crisis” among American teenagers as well as protect younger users from bullying and child sexual exploitation.
“We think social media is a contributing factor,” Mr McKell said on Thursday. “We want to tackle that issue.”
While the measures may come as welcome news for many parents, civil liberties experts and tech industry groups said it raised significant privacy and free speech concerns.
Some warned that the new law, which will require social networks to verify users’ ages and obtain parental consent for those younger than 18, could cut off young people in Utah from major online platforms and infringe on parental rights to decide how their children used the internet. – Agencies