Utah’s social media law raising questions about parent, teen rights

Sep 12, 2023, 12:41 PM

Gov. Spencer Cox shakes hands with Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Draper....

Gov. Spencer Cox shakes hands with Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Draper, after signing HB311, Social Media Usage Amendments, which Cullimore sponsored, at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 23, 2023. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s social media law is the first of its kind, requiring age verification and restricting access to social media for minors during certain hours. Ahead of it taking effect, some are concerned that the law is overstepping parent and teen rights. 

The new law goes into effect on March 1, 2024, according to the State of Utah’s website

Stephen Balkam is the founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute. Balkam said age verification is an important part of the law. In an opinion piece for Deseret News, Balkam wrote that the age verification process has been underexplained by state lawmakers. 

Utah’s social media law does not explicitly state how platforms are expected to verify age.

“You have a balance between effectiveness on the one hand and invasiveness on the other,” said Balkam. The more effective age assurance technology is, the more invasive to a person’s privacy it typically is. 

Age verification would require the collection of sensitive information, according to Balkam. 

Age verification could be difficult with children under the age of 16, who do not usually possess a driver’s license. In those cases, platforms would need to get the information from parents, or sometimes schools. 

“It’s not that we’re against the notion of age verification, age assurance. It’s just that some of the methods that have been used so far then cause different unintended consequences,” Balkam said. 

Parent or government responsibility? 

Philosophically, Balkam said his organization believes that as children reach the ages of 15, 16, and 17, they have some rights to information and to freely express themselves online. 

Balkam said that it is a parent’s right and responsibility to protect their children, but teens, specifically older ones, have a right to access information and socialize on the internet. 

“Parents still have a responsibility to talk with their child, to set ground rules… but we don’t think that there should be a blanket ban on anyone under the age of 18,” Balkam said. 

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Utah’s social media law raising questions about parent, teen rights