POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Senate committee OK changes to Utah’s Social Media Regulations Act

Feb 16, 2024, 5:00 PM | Updated: 5:25 pm

social media...

FILE - This photo shows the mobile phone app logos for, from left, Facebook and Instagram in New York, Oct. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, file)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Richard Drew, file)

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, is proposing changes to the Utah Social Media Regulation Act enacted last year. Several experts and others went before the Senate Business and Labor Committee to speak in favor of those changes.

The act would require social media companies to allow parents or guardians full access to their child’s online social media account, create an overnight curfew between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. and prohibit companies from collecting a child’s data.

The effective date for the Utah Social Media Regulation Act moved from March 1 to Oct. 1, 2024.

McKell’s bill, SB 194, requires social media companies to verify a new account holder’s age using an approved system. He said that provision is still being worked out.

“We’ll still have age assurance [but] that parental consent is a little different in the legislation this year. The parental consent is directly tied to privacy and data collection. So if a social media company is going to collect data on your child, a verified adult is going to have to give that consent,” he said.

McKell spoke with Dave and Dujanovic at the Capitol earlier in the week about his bill:

 

Social media: addiction and suicide

Britney Obray’s son died by suicide after viewing suggestive videos on social media. She said something changed in Dexton after using social media while he was in middle school.

“In another video, there’s an empty room, and there’s words on the screen, and it says ‘What are you doing for Halloween?’ Then it goes on to say nothing — just sitting here watching others hang out with their significant others while I drown myself with the overwhelming thought that I have no meaning.”

Lydia Johnson, 15, told the committee she became addicted to social media, even though her parents had placed restrictions on her phone.

“In my freshman year I started to post videos. I knew it was against the rules in our home, but I didn’t care. I got followers pretty quickly, and they’re always giving me praise, telling me how amazing I was, but it was all lies. These people didn’t know me, but the fake validation I kept getting made me crave more.”

“I never wanted to go anywhere, be around people. I shut everyone out of my life, and that led to anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts,” Johnson said.

She told the committee she planned to end her life, but got scared and told her mom what was happening. Her parents took away Lydia’s phone and started getting her the help she needed.

Britney Obray’s husband found their son Dexton after he had taken his own life. Karl Obray says after the teen’s death, they started looking into his social media accounts. 

 “There were just such dark videos, such dark things that were pulling my Dexton into this web of addiction,” he told the committee.

The committee voted 4-to-0 to move the bill forward with a favorable recommendation. It next moves on to the full Senate for debate.

Addictive features would disappear

McKell added that his legislation would disable the addictive features of social media for a minor’s account.

“There’s going to be a lot of a lot of protections . . . [that] relate directly back to this addictive product: push notifications, endless scrolling, the amount of time on social media.  A lot of those addictive features, we’re just going to disable those on a minor account, and that’s the purpose, to stop this product from being so addictive.”

For McKell, the phrase “social media company” is not accurate.

“It’s a product, and we say social media, but these are data-mining companies. This is a product, and we regulate products that hurt kids and this is a very addictive product.”

Related: Utah lawmaker pushing legislation to address child care shortage

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Senate committee OK changes to Utah’s Social Media Regulations Act