Literally 1984: Utah’s new social media bills and the adolescent perspective

 On March 3rd, Utah Governor Spencer Cox signed off on two influential pieces of legislation, HB311, and SB152, meant to regulate social media usage for minors in the state of Utah. SB152 requires explicit permission from a parent or guardian for any minor who wishes to use social media, and HB311 would penalize social media companies for exposing minors to intentionally “addicting” content and employing other tactics that directly harm younger users. Both bills will fall into effect at the beginning of March 2024, exactly a year after their initial passage. Cox’s decision comes at a time of general panic about the role that social media plays, and ought to play, in our lives. So, what do Rowland Hall students, many of whom use social media on a daily basis, think about these bills?

Social media consumes me and my time. I spend countless hours on Snapchat, Instagram, and other sites, dedicating time that could’ve otherwise been used to study, practice my hobbies, spend time with friends, or, most notably, sleep. My already dopamine-starved brain has been hijacked by the deceitful and manipulative tactics of social media companies. HB311 and SB152 address a very prominent issue, but they do so in a way that, according to sophomore Eli Hatton, “subjects us [young people] to even more digital authoritarianism.” The bills would require parental spyware, forced curfews, and strict forms of identity verification in order to use social media. For junior Maddie Mulford, the problem behind teen screen usage lies not in social media, but in improper maintenance of adolescent mental health: “If they [Utah legislators] really cared about kids’ mental health,” Maddie says, “they would expand coverage for therapy and have better social-emotional learning in schools.”

The legislation would introduce forced curfews and other potential privacy concerns, issues that civil liberties experts say could impact the ways that children interact with other people. Additionally, experts note that the legislation would infringe on parental rights – parents ought to decide how their kids use technology, and the new laws would strip that away. Sarah Coyne, a professor of child development at BYU, highlighted that the laws could cut off important outlets for interaction among marginalized youth. The state monitoring children’s online activity could have profoundly negative effects. Following Utah’s lead, other states, like Texas and Arkansas, have passed similar laws. Arkansas’ SB396 would require explicit parental consent for minors to use social media, terms inspired by SB152 and HB311. Perhaps the most radical, Texas lawmakers are considering a bill (HB896) that would ban all social media accounts for minors.

HB311 and SB152 set a radical precedent for bills regulating social media usage. Conversely, they also pose serious questions about digital privacy and the degree to which the state and federal governments ought to protect and monitor their citizens without stepping into dangerous territory. How the state of Utah intends to enforce this hefty legislation? I’m not quite sure, to be completely honest. Perhaps the legislation will effectively solve the problem of teen social media addiction? Or, alternatively, do these bills mark the beginning of a deep spiral into an Orwellian dystopia?

Literally 1984: Utah’s new social media bills and the adolescent perspective
Gabe Andrus

 On March 3rd, Utah Governor Spencer Cox signed off on two influential pieces of legislation, HB311, and SB152, meant to regulate social media usage for minors in the state of Utah. SB152 requires explicit permission from a parent or guardian for any minor who wishes to use social media, and HB311 would penalize social media companies for exposing minors to intentionally “addicting” content and employing other tactics that directly harm younger users. Both bills will fall into effect at the beginning of March 2024, exactly a year after their initial passage. Cox’s decision comes at a time of general panic about the role that social media plays, and ought to play, in our lives. So, what do Rowland Hall students, many of whom use social media on a daily basis, think about these bills?

Social media consumes me and my time. I spend countless hours on Snapchat, Instagram, and other sites, dedicating time that could’ve otherwise been used to study, practice my hobbies, spend time with friends, or, most notably, sleep. My already dopamine-starved brain has been hijacked by the deceitful and manipulative tactics of social media companies. HB311 and SB152 address a very prominent issue, but they do so in a way that, according to sophomore Eli Hatton, “subjects us [young people] to even more digital authoritarianism.” The bills would require parental spyware, forced curfews, and strict forms of identity verification in order to use social media. For junior Maddie Mulford, the problem behind teen screen usage lies not in social media, but in improper maintenance of adolescent mental health: “If they [Utah legislators] really cared about kids’ mental health,” Maddie says, “they would expand coverage for therapy and have better social-emotional learning in schools.”

The legislation would introduce forced curfews and other potential privacy concerns, issues that civil liberties experts say could impact the ways that children interact with other people. Additionally, experts note that the legislation would infringe on parental rights – parents ought to decide how their kids use technology, and the new laws would strip that away. Sarah Coyne, a professor of child development at BYU, highlighted that the laws could cut off important outlets for interaction among marginalized youth. The state monitoring children’s online activity could have profoundly negative effects. Following Utah’s lead, other states, like Texas and Arkansas, have passed similar laws. Arkansas’ SB396 would require explicit parental consent for minors to use social media, terms inspired by SB152 and HB311. Perhaps the most radical, Texas lawmakers are considering a bill (HB896) that would ban all social media accounts for minors.

HB311 and SB152 set a radical precedent for bills regulating social media usage. Conversely, they also pose serious questions about digital privacy and the degree to which the state and federal governments ought to protect and monitor their citizens without stepping into dangerous territory. How the state of Utah intends to enforce this hefty legislation? I’m not quite sure, to be completely honest. Perhaps the legislation will effectively solve the problem of teen social media addiction? Or, alternatively, do these bills mark the beginning of a deep spiral into an Orwellian dystopia?

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