U Students Share Thoughts on Social Media Regulations for Minors and the Potential TikTok Ban


Mary Allen

(Graphic by Mary Allen | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Vanessa Hudson, Editor in Chief


Utah is the first state to create laws restricting social media access for minors with the legislation being signed by Gov. Spencer Cox the same day the United States Congress questioned TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about how the app is being used by children and for data privacy concerns.

Restricting Social Media for Children in Utah

Sen. Mike McKell passed one of the bills signed by Cox with several new requirements for minors in Utah wanting to have social media accounts. His bill, S.B. 152, requires age verification and parental consent for people under the age of 18 to open an account starting March 1, 2024. It also gives parents access to their child’s account, sets a default curfew for nighttime hours, prohibits direct messaging from anyone a minor hasn’t followed and blocks minors’ accounts from search results. Additionally, social media companies cannot use ad targeting on accounts held by children nor can they collect personal data on minors. 

At a public signing of the bills on March 23, Cox said Utah is leading the way on this issue and that it is very rare to see such bipartisan support for a bill.

“We remain very optimistic that we will be able to pass, not just here in the state of Utah, but across the country, legislation that significantly changes the relationship of our children with these very destructive social media apps,” Cox said. 

Isaac Shelton, a psychology major and senior at the University of Utah, said he thinks these bills are under the guise of protecting children but it’s really just a way for parents to have more control over their kids.

Shelton said Utah is a “pretty red state” and LGBTQ+ children may not feel safe if their parents suddenly have access to their social media. Children often find community online, he said, when it’s not offered at home.

“I think that the full access and control to underage people’s data is really just a way to peek into kids’ private lives,” he said.

H.B. 311 from Rep. Jordan Teuscher had overwhelming bipartisan support from the Utah State Legislature and was also signed by Cox on March 23. The bill prohibits a social media company from using any design element or feature deemed as addictive to minors with a punishment of $250,000 for companies found violating the new law and a fine of $2,500 per child exposed to an addictive feature. It also allows parents the ability to sue companies for “financial, physical, or emotional harm” in certain circumstances.

The bills are set to go into effect on March 1, 2024, but it is possible they will face legal challenges.

Cox has said these bills aim to address the mental health crisis among youth, especially teen girls in Utah. In a March 16 press conference, Cox said he wouldn’t back down from a potential legal challenge while social media companies are “killing kids.”

“It’s the addictive qualities of social media that are intentionally being placed by these companies to get our kids addicted, and they know it’s harming them,” he said. 

Ryan Park, a senior studying health, science and program policy at the U, said not only would these restrictions affect marginalized groups or communities, but kids would lose their ability to find themselves.

“I feel like in general, it would be difficult to be a young person trying to find their way, their own identity without having any sort of sense of autonomy,” he said.  

U.S. Seeks TikTok Ban

The same day Utah’s social media bills were signed, Chew was questioned by Congress’ House Energy and Commerce Committee as the U.S. government debates how to restrict TikTok due to national security concerns.

In the five-hour-long committee hearing, lawmakers spoke about their concerns involving TikTok’s effects on children’s mental health and questioned if TikTok shared users’ personal data with the Chinese Communist Party.

A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress called the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act (RESTRICT Act) doesn’t list TikTok by name, but it would give Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo power to regulate tech produced from six countries: China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela. TikTok is owned by ByteDance which is based in China.

Chew denied any claims of TikTok sharing data or having any connections to the CCP. 

The bottom line is this: American data stored on American soil, by an American company, overseen by American personnel,” he said.

Adam Montgomery, a graduate student studying education at the U, said he thinks it’s ridiculous that the U.S. is placing so much emphasis on banning TikTok when so many other companies are harvesting and selling data.

“It feels like a lot of xenophobia is built into this ban,” he said. “It’s just rooted in racism and xenophobia, like a fear of Chinese people or immigrants or anybody who doesn’t fit the societal norm.” 

Silvia Leon, a psychology major at the U, said ironically, she’s been made aware of the TikTok ban because of TikTok. 

“I think that banning [TikTok] completely is a big step in the wrong direction,” she said. “It’s wild that they’re so focused on what one country is going to do and there are so many other problems going on that are so much bigger and demand much more attention.” 


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