In a significant move, the state of Utah has proposed a series of stringent regulations to protect minors from the potential harms of social media. The Utah Division of Consumer Protection, part of the state’s Department of Commerce, has unveiled the Social Media Regulation Act (SMRA), aimed at ensuring the safety and privacy of young social media users.
Verification and Parental Consent
The key highlight of the SMRA is that social media platforms will be required to verify if a user is a minor. Upon confirmation, platforms will have to obtain parental consent before the minor can open an account. Margaret Woolley Busse, the Executive Director of the Utah Department of Commerce, stated, “If you’re under 18, you have to have parental consent. In order to prove you’re over 18, there has to be a way to age-verify.”
Several age-verification methods have been proposed under the SMRA, including but not limited to:
- Validating and verifying mobile telephone subscriber information
- Using dynamic knowledge-based authentication consistent with FTC-approved methods
- Checking the last four digits of a user’s Social Security Number against third-party personal databases – Utilizing digital credentials, facial analysis, or characterization
- Matching verified government-issued identification with either a live webcam photo or video or in-person
- Additionally, social media companies must:
- Verify age within 72 hours
- Provide confirmation to a parent or guardian
- Ensure data security, host data within the U.S., and purge it after a specific duration
Challenges and Concerns
While the proposed rules prioritize safety, they also raise concerns about user privacy. “The idea of having to upload your license to a social media company where privacy is already a concern is not appealing,” Busse pointed out. She stressed that while protecting kids, the state also endeavors to balance privacy with safety.
Tech expert Sarah Kimmel voiced concerns regarding age verification. “You can’t have age verification and privacy. That doesn’t exist. This could be problematic for all adults and minors in Utah,” she commented. Kimmel suggests focusing more on educating parents than just legislating the issue.
FOX 13 News reached out to multiple social media platforms regarding the proposed rules. Antigone Davis, the head of global safety for Meta (owner of Facebook, Instagram, and Threads), stated: “We want young people to have safe, positive experiences across the internet. We’ve developed over 30 tools to support families and will continue evaluating proposed legislation.”
Public Feedback and Implementation
The Department has initiated a public comment period, which will last until February 5, 2024. Following this, the rule could either undergo changes or be implemented. Companies will then have until March 1, 2024, to comply or face potential fines of up to $2,500 per violation.
For those interested in providing feedback on the proposed SMRA rules, submissions can be made at socialmedia.utah.gov. A public comment hearing has also been scheduled for November 1 at the Utah State Capitol.
Broader Stand Against Social Media Harms
This move follows a trend of increasing action against social media platforms by the state, especially concerning their alleged harmful impacts on children. Just last week, Governor Spencer Cox and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes launched a lawsuit against TikTok, accusing it of creating an addictive algorithm detrimental to youth mental health. Governor Cox expressed his eagerness for the SMRA to come into effect, emphasizing the importance of the well-being of the state’s youth.
As this regulation comes into play, other states and countries might closely observe its implementation and results. A successful execution in Utah could potentially set a precedent for similar laws worldwide. However, the journey to the act’s full enforcement promises to be fraught with challenges.
Tech Industry Adaptation
The tech industry’s response will play a pivotal role in the SMRA’s success. Large corporations like Meta have the resources to adapt to these changes, but smaller startups and platforms might face more significant challenges in incorporating such age verification methods. It will be crucial for the state to offer support and perhaps even partnerships with third-party vendors, as Busse mentioned, to ease this transition.
Public Perception and Compliance
While the primary aim of the SMRA is the protection of minors, public perception of these rules will be vital. Ensuring that adults and parents understand the purpose behind these regulations, while also addressing privacy concerns, will be crucial. Outreach programs, educational campaigns, and open dialogues can play a significant role in achieving public buy-in.
The SMRA is a bold step by the state of Utah in ensuring the safety and privacy of minors on social media platforms. While the move is commendable, its implementation and acceptance by tech giants will be the determining factor in its success. It will also be essential to monitor the balance between user safety and privacy as these rules come into effect, marking a significant milestone in the digital age’s regulatory landscape.