2023 Bills

SB 152: Restrictions on Social Media Use by Minors

This bill passed the House 60-11 and passed the Senate 23-4. Review our tracker for more information.

Libertas Institute opposes this bill

Staff review of the legislation finds that it violates our principles and must therefore be opposed.

Libertas opposes Senate Bill 152, introduced by Senator Mike McKell, which would create a division within the government to place restrictions and requirements on social media, forcing the company to act as an intrusive and parental agent for the state of Utah.

First, the bill requires social media companies to identify Utah children on the platform by collecting and storing each child’s birthdate and their parent’s address. The reason companies don’t already collect this information is that it is virtually impossible to keep that information safe. Nonetheless, the bill requires companies to store that information, which creates a risk that malicious actors will gain access and sell this information that includes a child’s age and, in many cases, the child’s home address on the dark web.

Second, the bill requires companies to collect identifying information in the form of government identification from all users in Utah — not just children — to verify they are over 18. Then, instead of destroying that information once age has been verified, companies are required to store the photocopies of government-issued IDs with home addresses on them. This creates an unnecessary cybersecurity risk for all Utahns who simply want to use social media.

Third, the bill creates a catch-22 for any company attempting to comply with this law and laws outside of Utah at the same time. This is because the bill puts the burden on companies to prevent minors from bypassing age verification requirements by, for example, using a VPN to mask IP addresses. While the use of VPNs can be detected, the location of a VPN user cannot, and a company would need to require each VPN user to verify their location before they can access the site.

This requirement placed on VPN users would violate state data-privacy laws which prohibit companies from conditioning access on a user providing personal information like an IP address or something more. Following this proposed Utah requirement of verifying the location and age of a VPN user who is actually located in California, for example, would create legal liability in California. Upholding California’s law, on the other hand, would violate this bill proposed in Utah — also creating legal liability for a company.

Finally, this bill removes parents’ ability to decide how their children interact with social media. In addition to imposing time restrictions on minors’ accounts from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., the bill also prevents minors from finding and connecting with their peers. Children not already on social media and connected with their friend groups will be unable to connect with them after this bill goes into effect. That means that even connections a parent allows or encourages will be blocked by hiding a minor’s account from their friends.

Bills like this, if enacted, only incentivize companies to avoid the states passing these onerous restrictions into law. For companies hosting social media sites with user-generated content, the incentive to continue offering those services in Utah will be severely diminished when combined with the contradictory laws outside the state imposing severe penalties. All that is left untouched, in Utah’s case at least, are sites and services that push tailored, pre-approved content. Overregulating sites with user-generated content will only serve to take away platforms where users call out disinformation from official sources.