Gov. Cox announces Utah State Social Media Act, includes protection for minors, fines for addictive content

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Governor Cox and Utah’s Division of Consumer Protection updated guidelines for the Utah Social Media Regulation Act on Oct. 16, giving companies until March 1, 2024 to either become compliant or to face large fees.

The Social Media Regulation Act combines two bills passed this year: SB152 and HB311.

Governor Cox speaks to a crowd. The new guidelines will direct social media companies to curb addiction in minors. (AP Photo)

These bills require social media companies to deny accounts to minors unless they have express parental permission. They must also deactivate addictive features, or, according to HB311, they could face fines.

“A social media company is subject to: a civil penalty of $250,000 for each practice, design, or feature shown to have caused addiction; and a civil penalty of up to $2,500 for each Utah Minor account holder who is shown to have been exposed to the practice, design, or feature shown to have caused addiction,” the bill states.

Psychology major Isabella Sorenson created her Instagram account when she was 14.

“In some ways (The Utah Social Media Regulation Act) is good,” Sorenson said. “It can also be really dangerous. Censorship is a real thing. People could use it to punish people. (For some) LGBTQ kids in Utah, the internet is the only place to get positive affirmation,” Sorenson said.

Attorney General Sean Reyes announced his support of the bill in a joint press conference with Governor Cox. He acknowledged the positive effects of social media while highlighting potential mental health consequences.

“While there are positive aspects of social media, gaming and online activities, there is substantial evidence that social media and internet usage can also be extremely harmful to a young person’s mental and behavioral health and development,” Reyes said.

While social media can be negative, there can also be positive results, according to Reyes.

Sorenson uses social media to remain up to date with BYU events and to connect with other students.

In Rival IQ’s 2023 Higher Education Social Media Engagement Report, BYU ranked 105 in engagement with social media content.

Rival IQ surveyed 659 Division I and Division II schools from June 1, 2022 to May 31 this year to create a formula that blends overall interaction with social media and the rate of engagement with school content.

BYU ranked 105 on Instagram, 131 on Facebook, 37 on Twitter and 256 on TikTok.

The highest engagement with social media came from TikTok accounts like @Cosmo_cougar.

On Oct. 10, Governor Cox announced his plans to sue TikTok for misrepresentation of minors’ safety and failure to disclose parent company information.

“After extensive investigation, the state alleges the social media giant illegally baits children into addictive and unhealthy use, blatantly misrepresents the app’s safety, and deceptively portrays itself as independent of its China-based parent company ByteDance,” the press release said.

BYU organizations often use platform like TikTok and Instagram to reach students easily.

Angela Blomquist, director for the Student Connection and Leadership Center, uses social media to get information to the public.

“We have lots of opportunities for students,” Blomquist said. “Social media is to make them aware of all the opportunities.”

As homecoming approaches, Blomquist has more content to share with students.

“Sometimes we post 2-3 times a day,” Blomquist said. “We have lots happening. (We) let everyone know the calendar.”

Marketing and Spanish studies major Christian Pearson primarily uses Instagram to stay informed about BYU events.

“Instagram is definitely the platform I’m on the most often,” Pearson said. “The top accounts I get my BYU information from are @byucougars and @byu.students.”

The Student Connection and Leadership Center’s new marketing team is working to make social media engagement more effective, according to Blomquist.

“They are a team that’s really excited,” Blomquist said. “(They are) researching and finding what students are engaged in. Engagement has been tripled.”

Even major programs use social media to connect with current students, including Global Women’s Studies which has an Instagram, Facebook and Youtube.

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