Opinion: Utah’s startling new rules for kids and social media

Editor’s Note: Kara Alaimo, associate professor of communications at Fairleigh Dickinson University, writes about issues affecting women and social media. Her book, “Over the Influence: Why Social Media Is Toxic for Women and Girls – And How We Can Reclaim It,” will be published by Alcove Press in 2024. Opinions expressed in This review is her own. Read more comments on CNN.


Republican Governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, recently signed two bills into law that strongly limits children’s use of social media platforms. Under the law that goes into effect next year, social media companies must verify the age of all users in the state, and children under 18 must have parental permission to open an account.

Kara Alaimo

Parents will also be able access to their child’s account, apps will not be allowed to show ads aimed at children and account for kids will not be used from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. without parental permission.

It’s about time. Social networks in the United States have become extremely dangerous for children, and parents can no longer protect their children without the tools and protections this law provides. Although Cox is right that these measures will not “sure,” and what their implementation actually looks like is an open question, but one thing is clear: Congress should follow Utah’s lead and enact similar legislation to protect every child in the United States. this country.

One of the most important parts of Utah law is requiring social networks to verify the age of users. Currently, most apps ask the user’s age without asking for proof. Kids can lie and say they’re older to avoid some of the features social media companies have created to protect kids — like TikTok’s new settings request 13- to 17 years old to enter their password after they’ve been online for an hour, as a reminder for them to consider if they want to spend that much time on the app.

While Critics argue age verification allows tech companies to collect more data about users, let’s be honest: These companies already have a scary amount intimate information about us. To get around this, we need a separate (and comprehensive) data privacy law. But until that happens, this concern should not stop us from protecting children.

One of the key components of this law is allowing parents to access their children’s accounts. In this way, the law begins to help address one of the biggest dangers children face online: harmful content. I’m talking about things like 2,100 pieces of content about suicide, self-harm and depression that Molly Russell, 14, of the United Kingdom, saved, shared or liked in the six months before she killed herself last year.

I’m also talking about things like power failure challenge – also called Fainting or suffocating challenge – that went viral on social media. In 2021, four children 12 and under in four different states all died after trying it.

“Check their phones,” urge father of one of these young victims. “It’s not a private matter — this is their life.”

Of course, there are legitimate privacy concerns here, and just as children’s use of social media can be deadly, social apps can also be used in healthy ways. strong. LGBTQ children are not accepted by their families or communities, For example, can go online for good support for their mental health. Their parents will now be able to see this content on their accounts.

I hope groups serving children who are questioning their gender and sexual identity and those working with other vulnerable youth will adjust their online presence to try to Try to serve as a resource for parents’ education about inclusion and tolerance. It’s also a reminder that vulnerable children need better access to mental health services like therapy — they’re too young to find the support they need on their own. Online.

However, despite these very real privacy concerns, it is simply too dangerous for parents to not know what their children are viewing on social media. Just as parents and caregivers monitor our kids offline and don’t allow them to go to bars or strip clubs, we have to make sure they don’t end up in unsafe places online. society.

The other major challenge that Utah law helps parents overcome is the amount of time kids spend on social media. A survey in 2022 by Common Sense Media found that an average of 8 to 12-year-olds use social media for 5 hours and 33 minutes a day, while the average is 13 to 18 year olds spend 8 hours 39 minutes every day. that is more time than a full-time job.

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that lack of sleep is associated with serious harm in children – everything from trauma to depression, obesity and diabetes. So parents in the US there needs to be a way to make sure their kids don’t stay up all night on TikTok (parents in China don’t have to worry about this because of the Chinese version of TikTok). Children are not allowed stays in place for more than 40 minutes and cannot be used overnight).

Of course, Utah is not an authoritarian country like China, so it is impossible to turn off children’s phones. That’s why this new law came into being that requires social networks to make these settings. The tougher part of Utah’s law for tech companies to do would be a requirement clause Social apps to make sure they are not designed to be addictive for kids.

Social networks are said to be addictive in nature, as they feed our desire for connection and validation. But hopefully the threat of being sued by kids who say they’ve become addicted or harmed by social media – an outcome that This law provides a way — will force tech companies to think carefully about how they build algorithms and features like bottomless feeds that appear to be realistically designed to keep users glued to their screens.

TikTok and Snap did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on the Utah law, while representatives for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said the sharing company goal of keeping Facebook safe for children but also want Facebook to be accessible.

Of course, if social media had been more responsible, it probably wouldn’t have come to this point. But in America, Tech companies have taken advantage about the lack of rules for building platforms that could be dangerous for our children.

The countries ended up saying nothing more. In addition to Utah’s measures, California adopted a last year’s online safety law scan. Connecticut, Ohio and Arkansas are also consider the law to protect children by regulating social media. One bill introduced in Texas will not allow children to use social media.

There’s nothing innocuous about the experiences many kids are having on social media. This law will help Utah parents protect their children. Parents in other states need the same support. Now, it’s time for the federal government to step up and make sure children across the country have the same protections as Utah children.

Suicide & Crisis Helpline: Call or text 988. The hotline provides 24/7 support, free and confidential for those in distress, provides crisis and prevention resources for you and your loved ones, and provides provides best practices to professionals in the United States. Spanish: Linea de Prevencion del Suidio y Crisis: 1-888-628-9454.


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