Utah became the first state in the nation to impose a curfew on social media access for children and teens as part of sweeping reforms amid the dangers posed by harmful content on TikTok and other platforms.
Republican Gov. Spencer Cox signed off on the Utah Social Media Regulation Act on Thursday as TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was grilled on Capitol Hill — with one analyst describing Chew’s evasive testimony as a “disaster” for the video-sharing app as it faces a potential US ban.
Under Utah’s laws — which go into effect next March — minors will be barred from using social media sites like TikTok, Snap and Instagram between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.
The legislation also blocks social media companies from implementing addictive features and advertising aimed at underage users, and makes it easier for families alleging their children were harmed by the platforms to sue for damages.
Residents under 18 also will need parental consent in order to create accounts on the social media sites and the platforms will be required to give parents access to their kids’ accounts to help monitor exposure to potentially harmful content.
“We’re no longer willing to let social media companies continue to harm the mental health of our youth,” Cox tweeted after signing off on the laws.
“Utah’s leading the way in holding social media companies accountable — and we’re not slowing down anytime soon,” Cox added.
Utah’s GOP-backed laws are some of the most restrictive implemented to date in a growing nationwide movement to protect the mental health of young users and shield them from harmful online content.
The laws faced pushback from the tech industry as well as advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which argued that “the majority of young Utahns will find themselves effectively locked out of much of the web.”
Social media companies are expected to sue in an effort to block Utah’s laws before they take effect in March 2024.
“We want teens to be safe online,” a spokesperson for Instagram parent Meta said in a statement. “We’ve developed more than 30 tools to support teens and families, including tools that let parents and teens work together to limit the amount of time teens spend on Instagram, and age verification technology that helps teens have age-appropriate experiences.”
“We automatically set teens’ accounts to private when they join Instagram, and we send notifications encouraging them to take regular breaks,” the statement added.
Representatives for TikTok and Snapchat did not immediately return requests for comment.
Similar legislation is under consideration in both right- and left-leaning states across the US, including Texas, Ohio and New Jersey.
Big Tech giants have faced mounting bipartisan scrutiny from lawmakers over their content moderation policies.
Harmful content on TikTok was a key focus during the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s hearing on Thursday. Chew repeatedly irritated lawmakers from both parties by dodging “yes or no” questions or providing evasive responses.
Calls have mounted for TikTok to be banned in the US due to its links to the Chinese Communist Party through its parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance.
During one powerful exchange, Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) confronted Chew about the case of 16-year-old Chase Nasca, who died by suicide last year after allegedly being exposed to TikTok videos promoting suicide.
Nasca’s parents were in attendance at the hearing and were seen weeping as Bilirakis pilloried Chew over TikTok’s failure to crack down on the destructive videos.
“Mr. Chew, your company destroyed their lives,” Bilirakis said.
Chew described Nasca’s death as “devastating” and “tragic.”
“We do take these issues very seriously and we do provide resources for anybody that types in anything suicide-related,” Chew said.
With Post wires
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