Is Utah Really Protecting Kids on Social Media?

Shivani Desai image
Shivani Desai
April 27, 2023

Back in 2021, I briefly dissected Facebook’s creation of “Instagram Kids,” reviewing the pros and cons of the new platform as a mom who is fearful about the effects of social media on kids. While there’s been no recent updates on this particular platform, concerns about social media and its usage among kids are still at the top of parents’ list of worries. So much so, that the state of Utah recently took their concerns a step further and passed two laws restricting minors’ social media use and requiring parents’ permission for anyone under the age of 18 in order to sign up for the platforms. 

The bills were signed in late March and are expected to go into effect March 1, 2024, barring any backlash from the tech companies themselves. 

As a concerned parent, I believe that while the intentions behind this legislation are really meant to push Big Tech to implement actual, real guidelines that will protect both kids and parents from the addictive features, bullying, and subsequent poor mental health that comes from social media usage, there’s unfortunately no real plan on how this will all be enforced. Here are just a couple of my concerns: 

Age Verification

Even with the current requirements on social platforms that all users be above the age of 13, there are clear ways to get around that rule. Young kids are able to create accounts with or without their parents’ consent easily, and there’s really no way for these social media platforms to confirm one way or another. So while this bill is welcomed by various advocacy groups and takes a step forward in holding “social media companies accountable to ensure kids across the country are protected online,” said Jim Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit focusing on kids and technology, there has been no discussions as of yet to demonstrate what exactly will be done to confirm ages. 

Potential Privacy Issues

By requiring users to tell the truth about their age, we start down the slippery slope of allowing these companies to compile even more information about you. Considering that in order to confirm you’re not a child, you will therefore be required to verify that you’re an adult, your age will be shared with these companies. Now, I know there’s a saying “never ask a woman her age,” and while I don’t care about anyone knowing my age, that’s still not something I want to share with Big Tech to somehow use for their own benefit… call me skeptical all you want. 

Furthermore, there’s a provision that will allow parents and guardians to quite literally see everything their child posts and messages. My immediate reaction, as an overprotective mom who would love nothing more than to keep my girls in my little bubble forever, is to agree with this. But, I know that there are caveats to this, including but most definitely not limited to kids in difficult situations, abusive situations, and LGBTQ+ children. 

Other Options

While researching the new law and how the media responded to it, I noticed that a few different articles asked the question, “instead of infringing on kids’ privacy rights and ultimately weakening their online safety, shouldn’t lawmakers focus on passing privacy laws?” 

Examples include cracking “down on predatory design practices like autoplay and infinite scroll, the use of personal data for algorithmic recommendations, and intrusive notifications.” And to be honest, like everything else, I don’t believe there’s one simple solution to this. I think the above laws aren’t enough to protect kids from the proven detrimental effects of social media use. More has to be done, but it remains in the hands of the tech industry themselves. There must be a concerted effort on their part to make real, impactful and effective changes. After all, the research (and a well written Wall Street Journal expose) has shown us that Facebook already knows about their impact on young girls.

I’d love to hear what you think! Is the state of Utah taking things too far? Is there another direction we can go in? Leave your thoughts in the social post that led you here!