Bill to regulate social media for minors draws support and criticism from adults, children

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Senate Bill 152 was presented before the Senate Business and Labor Committee on Jan. 31.

SB152 is a proposed bill that “enacts provisions related to the regulation of social media companies and social media platforms.” Among other things, the bill requires parents to be involved with the creation and maintenance of children’s social media accounts. 

Daniel Burton, general counsel from the Utah Attorney General’s Office, spoke in favor of the bill. Burton said that the attorney general has a task force combating crimes against children and that their goal is to “investigate and prosecute the predators who seek and prey on our children online.”

Burton said sometimes “it can feel like they are an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff,” waiting to catch the children as they are falling and provide them with support after they fall. Burton added that if they could put a fence at the top of this cliff to prevent children from falling, it might mean “fewer children falling off.” Burton then urged the listening senators to support the bill.

Thirteen-year-old student Lucy Loewen spoke to the Utah Senate about the issues she has with S.B. 152. One of the reasons Loewen opposed this bill is because “minors won’t be able to check in with friends who live out of state and family through social media and see what they’ve been up to.” She said that the lack of social media only in Utah might make the teens feel “very disconnected from the world, which as a teenager can feel very frustrating and restricting.” 

Loewen asked the committee members if the bill would create responsible teenagers and adults by removing their choice in the matter while growing up only to allow them access again once they turn 18.

She also said parents could already monitor their children’s social media usage by using the given resources provided by the apps instead of “making it mandatory for everyone to do this.”

Ben Horsely and Lucy Loewen spoke to the Senate Business and Labor Committee on Jan. 31.
Horsely spoke in favor of the bill, while Loewen spoke against it. (Utah Legislature)

Ben Horsely, director of communications and school outreach from the Granite School District spoke in favor of the bill. He said that “most adults don’t know how to use social media appropriately, yet we expect children to be able to do so, and make good choices.” 

Horsely then went on to relate a story about a pornographic video that was shared on Snapchat. A 15 year old that saw this complained to her mother, who then reached out to Horsely and asked, “‘how come you didn’t stop this from happening?’” Horsely then described how “heartbreaking” it was for him to ask the mother why she “allowed her child access to an app that was intentionally and specifically designed to hide content from you as a parent.”

“I cannot manage 60,000 kids and their social media accounts,” Horsely said. He also said that “parents do not know how to handle the technology themselves.”

Dr. Daniel Reidenberg, executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education spoke in opposition to the bill. Reidenberg said there is currently no diagnosis of social media addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders at this time.

He also said there are things that need to be done to improve social media, but that there are also some “very positive benefits that social media provides for users.” According to Reidenberg, social media can grant users “access to other people, people that are like them … or resources to get themselves help that they need.” 

Sen. Curtis Bramble said “we heard the same thing in the 50s and 60s about tobacco and nicotine,” regarding evidence of social media addiction. Reidenberg responded and said until there is a “diagnostic criteria for an addiction to social media,” it would be very difficult to establish a clinical diagnosis of addiction.

Bramble concluded his questions by asking whether or not Reidenberg had children, to which Reidenberg responded yes.

Parents in Provo were also torn about the bill. Karen Phair, a mother from Provo, said the government is “trying to go in the right direction,” but thinks that there needs to be additional adjustments so there is not “overreach” from the government. The bill would require parents to upload their birth certificate to verify their ages, which seems like an overreach to her.

Phair also felt concern for the children that would be impacted by the bill. By requiring parental permission to access any social media, children and teenagers might feel as though “mom’s looking over my shoulder” while they are online. “It’s kinda like a trust issue,” Phair said. “The children might think, ‘Oh, I’m not trusted.’ I think it’s important for children to feel that trust.”

Phair said she “really likes” that the safety features of the bill are in place. The bill would block those who are not friends with the minor from contacting them, as well as prevent minor social media accounts from being search accessible to those that are not friends. “Even as a diligent parent, you can’t catch everything, but there’s a fine line.”

Elaine Mills, a mother from Provo, thinks that the bill is a “great idea.” She said “it’s up to us as parents and a society to make sure that children are protected.”

The bill does not limit communication via email, texting or posting reviews online, only through social media apps where users can create a profile for others to view. While the bill would limit minors’ ability to contact their friends via social media if their parents do not sign up, Mills said that the kids could always communicate through text, instead of via social media.

Caryn Allen, a mother living in Provo, said she appreciates “the care and concern from our legislature for the children,” as well as the limitations that are being set on social media companies themselves. Allen said that it can be tricky for parents to “keep up” with the social media apps that pop up as time goes on.

Allen said instead of focusing on limiting teenager’s access to social media, the government should pursue stricter punishments for those that abuse those laws. “It’s part of teenager life to be rebellious. Most teenagers will find a way around the limits.”

The bill is currently being discussed in the Utah Legislature. Further updates to this story will come as they are published by the Utah legislative website.

Update: The bill was signed by Governor Cox on March 23, 2023.

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