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Social media has become a ubiquitous and, sometimes, perilous aspect of modern life, providing users with the means of staying connected with friends, extended family, colleagues, and the broader world. As concerns about the impact social media has on youngsters grow, some states have begun to introduce laws aimed at protecting minors engaged on online platforms.

The state of Utah recently passed the first piece of legislation that requires social media platforms to obtain parental consent before allowing minors to create an account. The law mandates age verification for all users, and imposes a curfew that prohibits kids from using social media between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. In addition, the law prohibits: ads being displayed to minors, accounts of minors appearing in search results, data collection from minors, suggesting certain content to minors, and, the integration of technology that may be considered “addictive.”

Social media platforms now have under a year -- until March 1, 2024 -- to comply with those new mandates. Sponsors of H.B. 311 and S.B. 152 have explained that the law is intended to combat the negative effects of social media usage on minors, as it can be extremely harmful to their mental health.

Of course, these requirements have drawn considerable criticism from opponents who argue that they infringe on constitutional free speech and privacy rights and can potentially lead to greater harm and inequity, particularly for children in less nurturing households. Yet, supporters argue that these changes are necessary to protect minors from exploitation and distress, such as anxiety, depression and loneliness.

It remains to be seen how the Utah law will take effect in practice, fare under legal scrutiny, and whether other states will follow suit. However, the issue of social media regulation is multifaceted, with arguments -- legal, ethical, and moral -- to be made on both sides. The challenge lawmakers will face will be to balance the protection of the most vulnerable members of our society while safeguarding fundamental constitutional principles.

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UTAH LEGISLATION:  H.B. 311 and S.B. 152