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Utah passes an age-verification law for anyone using social media

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Utah's governor has signed two new laws restricting social media apps for kids under 18, making it the first state in the country to move this far on the issue. One law says minors must get a parent's consent before signing up for sites like Instagram or TikTok. State Republicans say that law is intended to protect children, but critics, including some advocacy groups and social media companies, say the law is unconstitutional and will not protect kids. Saige Miller, politics reporter with KUER in Salt Lake City, joins us now for more. Hi, Saige.

SAIGE MILLER, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks for having me.

CHANG: Thanks for being with us. OK. So can you just break down for us what is in these new restrictions for Utah?

MILLER: Yeah, there's a lot packed into these two bills signed by Republican Governor Spencer Cox. It requires parental consent for a minor to join a social media platform. It prohibits minors from using social media from the hours of 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. Parents must be given access to their children's social media accounts, age verification for anybody wanting to open up a social media account. It outlines how people can sue social media companies on behalf of children for alleged harms and prohibits targeted ads and data collection on minor users.

CHANG: OK, a lot there. Can you just tell us more about what Utah Republicans are saying that they want from these laws?

MILLER: Yeah. They definitely want to regulate social media companies, which they say have very lax restrictions now. And they want to limit the impact it has on youth. The bill sponsor of one of the main bills frequently pointed to a recent CDC study that found teenage girls specifically are struggling with their mental health. And supporters like Governor Cox believe social media has played a huge role in the declining health of young teens. He called these apps like Instagram and TikTok very destructive and hopes these bills will give parents the tools to fight back and limit the influence they have on their child's life. And he asked - on the last day of the legislature, he was asked whether he would anticipate a lawsuit from social media companies against these changes, and he said, absolutely he does.

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SPENCER COX: I can't wait to hold them accountable. I can't wait to get in front of a judge and jury with these media companies. It will be one of the happiest days of my life when we get to show the world what they've known and what they've been doing to our kids.

CHANG: Well, what about the reaction from social media companies? It sounds like these laws could mean big changes for them, right?

MILLER: It sounds right now that social media companies are being a little bit quiet. These bills don't go into effect until March of next year. So there's still time for companies to figure it out, the legislature to make some changes and for the companies to ask the courts to block these regulations if they want to. Although Cox said it himself, it's highly anticipated that some organizations will sue - unsure if that's going to be social media companies or it's going to be a third-party organization that's for internet rights. But I haven't seen any social media companies go on the record saying that they will sue as of now.

But Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram, have released all the ways that they work to protect children and encourage limited time on the platforms. And organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation raised First Amendment concerns. They argue these bills will hinder the right to free speech. It could actually lead to these companies harvesting more personal data by forcing age verification and other things along with those bills. And there's also a huge question of how Utah is actually going to enforce these regulations and if it's even possible to do so. But other states are introducing these laws. So it remains to be seen.

CHANG: That is Saige Miller from KUER. Thank you, Saige.

MILLER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MINUTEMEN'S "COHESION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Saige Miller