HB 311: Restrictions on Social Media Use by Minors
Libertas Institute opposes this bill
Libertas opposes House Bill 311, introduced by Representative Jordan Teuscher. This bill is similar to the companion Senate Bill 152 introduced by Senator McKell, which would create a division within the government to place restrictions and requirements on social media, forcing the company to act as a parental agent for the state of Utah. However, a few key distinctions between the two bills exist.
First, the House version places heavy emphasis on the addictive qualities of social media — defining terms like “addiction” and “addicted,” which are rarely defined with clarity in the Utah code for things like opioids, alcohol, and tobacco. The thresholds for determining a minor’s “addiction” are legally vague, and the threshold for causing someone to become “addicted” is left open to broad interpretation of whether a social media company either knew of the addiction or acted “negligently” (i.e., should have known).
Second, whereas the Senate version requires parental consent for all minors under 18 years of age, HB 311 outright bans all minors under the age of 16 from accessing social media. Minors between the ages of 16 and 18 would then be filtered into the problematic age verification mechanism proposed by SB 152, which would involve parents handing over government-issued identification, a physical address, and the birthdate of the minor.
Third, HB 311 prevents social media companies from using a design or feature known to cause minors to become addicted. However, depending on the perspective of a trier of fact, an entire social media platform may be deemed addictive under the broad prohibition of this bill. The possibility for de facto prohibitions of social media platforms may violate the First Amendment rights of social media companies.
Finally, a key difference in the House version is that it prevents minors from entering into a contract with an interactive computer service without clear and unambiguous parental consent. However, while this portion is likely aimed at a platform’s terms of service, it does not have an effect on current law. A platform’s terms of service, an agreement to use a platform within set parameters in exchange or access to the platform, is not a legally binding contract. It lacks the basic element of consideration recognized in most common law states like Utah. Furthermore, under the existing law, a minor cannot enter into a contract with anyone, let alone an “interactive computer service.”
Unlike the specific provisions of SB 152 that create problematic outcomes, HB 311 creates open-ended legal hurdles. Aside from the difficulty enforcing these provisions, the House version presents First Amendment concerns that may limit its effectiveness.