The Utah legislature recently passed SB 152 and HB 311. While these two bills will primarily impact those who are “social media” entities under the law, they may have broader impact when the majority of their requirements take effect, on March 1, 2024.
The bills apply to “social media companies” – defined as companies with more than five million account holders worldwide. Key provisions include:
- SB 152: Starting March 1, 2024 social media companies must (i) verify the age of a Utah resident seeking to maintain or open an account, and (ii) get parental consent before minors under 18 can open or maintain their current account. Existing users who do not verify their age within 14 days of trying to access their account must have their access denied. The social media company must give minors’ parents (or guardians) access to all posts, messages, and responses. These companies also cannot display advertising to minors. Minors also will not be able to engage in a variety of interactive activities -like direct messaging- to individuals outside their friend group. The law also requires for data minimization of information in minors’ accounts and limits the time of day that minors can access their accounts. Namely prohibiting use between 10:30pm and 6:30am. The bill provides for a private right of action, as well as rulemaking to clarify a variety of points including how to obtain parental consent and verify age.
- HB 311: This bill is focused on “addiction” to social media. Under the law, social media companies may not “use a practice, design or feature” on its platform that it knows or should know would cause a minor to become addicted to the platform. Addiction is defined as use that both indicates “a substantial preoccupation or obsession” with the platform and causes “physical, mental, emotional, developmental or material” harm to the minor. Social media companies will be subject to auditing by the Utah Division of Consumer Protection. They will not be liable for content uploaded by third party account holders. Violations may result in a $250,000 civil penalty per violation. The bill also provides for a private right of action to collect attorney fees and damages.
These bills are the first of their kind in the US and have received a fair amount of focus. SB 152 in particular may have impact on entities beyond social media companies themselves. For example, the prohibition on displaying ads to minors. And HB 311 may result in modifications in how social media companies design their platforms for all users to avoid allegations of “addiction.” We may also see a drop off in account holders in Utah, given the need for all to verify age and the requirement that accounts be cancelled if age is not verified within the bill’s time frames.
Putting it into Practice: While California is often seen as a leader in these consumer protection statutes, other states may be following Utah’s lead this time. Connecticut, Ohio, and Texas have introduced similar bills to regulate minors’ use of social media. As social media companies gear up for the March 1, 2024 deadline, others are reminded that regulators and enforcement agencies both are concerned about children’s use of online platforms.