Utah Repeals and Replaces Controversial Social Media Bill

By Rebecca Paredes
March 27, 2024
Teen girl taking a selfie with phone

Welcome to Parent Pixels, a parenting newsletter filled with practical advice, news, and resources to support you and your kids in the digital age. This week:

  • Utah has officially repealed and replaced its controversial social media regulation bill. We break down the new rules and ramifications for other states.
  • Meta is under investigation for potentially facilitating and profiting from the sale of illicit drugs on Facebook and Instagram. What happens next?
  • Introducing Tech Talks: a new section with conversation-starters to check in with your child about online safety. 

Digital Parenting

Utah rolls back parental consent for social media access

Last year, Utah passed a first-in-the-nation law that prevented kids from accessing social platforms without parental consent, among other restrictions. Fast-forward to now, and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a pair of bills into law that repeal and replace almost everything. What happened?

As a recap, the 2023 Social Media Regulation Act: “required parental consent before kids can sign up for sites like TikTok and Instagram, prohibited kids under 18 from using social media between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m., require age verification for anyone who wants to use social media in the state, and sought to prevent tech companies from luring kids to their apps using addictive features,” via NPR

Following major Big Tech lawsuits, Utah’s legislature recently passed H.B. 464 and S.B. 194. The new bills maintain age verification but repeal the ban on addictive design features, only require platforms to obtain parental consent if a child attempts to change certain privacy settings, and don’t require platforms to enable parental controls unless the minor agrees. 

Like the previous version, the new legislation creates a process where parents can take social media companies to court. Parents can sue for a minimum of $10,000 per incident if a child has an “adverse mental health outcome” as a result of excessive social media use.

Big picture: Utah’s about-face underscores both the importance and difficulty of implementing social media regulation. After signing the Social Media Regulation Act into law in 2023, Gov. Cox nearly dared critics to sue the state over the law — and they did. NetChoice alleged the restrictions violated First Amendment free speech protections, and Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression filed a second lawsuit claiming that the age verification requirement is unconstitutional. Florida’s own social media ban, which was recently signed into law, faces similar legal challenges and delays.

Utah’s “repeal and replace” version of the bill aims to address some of the concerns raised in the lawsuits, while still taking steps to protect kids online. Sen. Mike McKell, one of the revised bills’ authors, said that there is data to support — and justify — the state’s push to put guardrails around social media use at the state level. 

“One of the bars that we have to overcome in legislating when we’re looking at First Amendment issues is whether there is a compelling state interest,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune. “We’re trying to tell the court explicitly why we’re passing this. Here’s the intent behind it. Here’s what we’re seeing in our state and why we’re passing this law.”

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Federal authorities investigate Meta for role in online drug sales 

It’s another bad PR week for Meta: the Wall Street Journal reports that federal prosecutors are looking into whether Meta, the parent company behind platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, facilitate and profit from the online sale of drugs.

It’s alarmingly easy to find controlled substances for sale online. A 2021 report by the Tech Transparency Project found that it takes just two clicks for kids to find potentially deadly drugs for sale on social media. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, “Drug traffickers have turned smartphones into a one-stop shop to market, sell, buy, and deliver deadly, fake prescription pills and other dangerous drugs” — which can easily contain deadly doses of fentanyl. 

US prosecutors sent Meta subpoenas last year and have been asking questions as part of a criminal grand jury probe. They have also requested records related to drug content or illicit sale of drugs via Meta's platforms. 

Bottom line: Investigations don’t always lead to formal charges, but this report places even more scrutiny on social media companies and how accountable they are for the content posted on their platforms. In a statement, a spokesperson for Meta said, “The sale of illicit drugs is against our policies and we work to find and remove this content from our services. Meta proactively cooperates with law enforcement authorities to help combat the sale and distribution of illicit drugs.” 

Tech talks With Your Child

We advocate for regular conversations about tech use and online safety. But how do you start those chats? We’re launching a new section this week: conversation-starters to kick off important dialogues with your kiddo about their devices, online interactions, and more. How will you check in with your kid about online safety this week?

  1. Can we talk about the importance of keeping personal information private online? Why do you think that's important?
  2. How do you decide which apps or games are okay to download? Let's review what makes an app safe and appropriate.
  3. Have we discussed setting boundaries about screen time? Why do you think it's important to have a balance?
  4. Do you feel pressure to act a certain way online, or to share things to get likes or comments? Let's talk about it.
  5. Are there any questions you have about the internet or social media that we haven't talked about yet?

Practical Parenting Tips

What to do if you find drug content on your child’s phone

You check your child’s phone or get an alert from your monitoring app, and you learn they’ve been messaging friends about drugs or looking at drug-related content online. Here’s what to do next

How to talk to teens about the risks of sexting

“Sexting” refers to sending or receiving sexually explicit videos, images, or text messages. Here are some tips to talk to your teen about sexting, including the potential consequences and a plan for safe texting practices.

What’s Catching Our Eye

🕒 TikTok ban update: H.R. 7521 is sitting in a Senate committee, which is kinda like the waiting room of bills. The measure would ban applications controlled by foreign adversaries of the United States that pose a national security risk, and it unanimously passed the House earlier this month. The vote was held following a closed-door security briefing about TikTok’s risks, and a bipartisan group of legislators are pushing to declassify that information and hold a public hearing. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn said, “As Congress and the Administration consider steps to address TikTok’s ties to the Chinese government, it is critically important that the American people, especially TikTok users, understand the national security issues at stake.”

📵 The costs of a phone-based childhood are harming our kids, writes social psychologist Jonathan Haidt.

👻 Snapchat is rolling out a feature that makes the messaging experience more like texts. The messages won’t vanish, but both users have to opt-in to the new setting.

👀 72% of teens feel peaceful without their smartphone, according to a new Pew Research Center survey — but 46% of teens say their parents are sometimes distracted by their phone when they’re trying to talk to them.

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