SCIENCE + TECHNOLOGY

Legal expert questions Utah’s social media restrictions

Dec 19, 2023, 5:00 PM

71% of teens use YouTube at lease once a day as the video sharing platform is the most used social ...

News from Harvard researchers comes after a group of social media companies is suing Utah for its strong law targeting social media companies. A legal analyst weighs in on the lawsuit and the constitutionality of the Utah law. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

(Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — Several companies have filed a lawsuit over social media restrictions that Utah enacted in S.B. 152, a new law that was hailed as a first of its kind in the United States.

The law, also known as the Social Media Regulations Act, places restrictions on social media companies.

Namely, the law includes an age requirement for Utah residents to open a social media account. It also forces social media companies to get parental or guardian consent for anybody under the age of 18 who wants to open a social media account.

The law also restricts social media companies from advertising to minors.

NetChoice, a trade association, said the Utah law is unconstitutional.

Complaint for declaratory and injunction relief, NetChoice v. Sean Reyes by Simone Seikaly on Scribd

 

“The First Amendment prohibits restricting access to protected expression, no matter how well-intentioned the government might be,” NetChoice said in the lawsuit. NetChoice is trying to block the enforcement of SB 152.

KSL Legal Analyst Greg Skordas told Dave and Dujanovic he had a twofold opinion about the Utah law.

“I think that the legislation has a good foundation,” he said. “I think that the governor and the legislature are concerned.”

But the state has a strong burden of proof in this instance, Skordas said, which may not withstand a lawsuit.

“We don’t have a lot of empirical data right now that it’s [social media] is particularly harmful,” he said.

 

“I mean we do have some information that this is harmful to minors, and maybe we’re going to learn more.”

Skordas said the 60-page lawsuit stated that parents have the right to protect their kid, but that the restrictions Utah is imposing is not the way to do it.

“These outlets are saying, ‘Wait a minute, you don’t have the right to do that. People have the right to access information and to see information and that even includes people under the age of 18.”

The pitfalls of social media, and parental concern

The U.S. Surgeon General recently issued a two-fold advisory related to social media. It acknowledged that the frequency and type of information served to youth on social media platforms can lead to a “profound risk of harm” to children’s mental health.

At the same time, social media can provide a benefit to youth, the advisory said.

A study by stem4 ED, a charity in the United Kingdom that focuses on childhood mental health, concluded that social media “poses a significant risk” to the health of younger generations.

And whether there is a plethora of empirical evidence, it’s clear that parents are concerned. A survey by the Pew Research Center found that 46% of the parents they surveyed were extremely or very concerned about their kids being exposed to explicit content online. 

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Legal expert questions Utah’s social media restrictions