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Could this be a sign of things to come in social media regulation?

The State of Utah is set to pass a new law which will restrict people under the age of 18 from using social media apps without a parent’s consent.

As per Axios:

Starting March 1st, 2024, all Utahns would have to confirm their ages to use social media platforms or lose account access, under the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Michael McKell.”

The new law, if enacted, will add an extra level of protection for youngsters, with parents to lose access to their own social media accounts if they fail to verify their kids’ age, and monitor their activity.

There are, of course, various provisos within the legislation, but the core focus is on ensuring that there’s at least some level of oversight for youngsters when using social media apps.

Which has become a much bigger focus of late, amid reports of harmful challenges on TikTok, the psychological impact of Instagram on young girls, misinformation on Facebook, etc.

Experts have also continually warned that social media use can have significant negative consequences for youngsters, which has led to all the major platforms adding in more protective measures to limit exposure and access, in different ways.

Most recently, TikTok added a new process which will limit teens to an hour a day in the app. That system can be circumvented by users, and as many people have noted, it will also lead to more youngsters lying about their age – though Meta also recently reported that its new age verification measures have been highly effective in detecting users who attempt to misreport their age.

In combination, these types of options could provide new avenues to ensure protection and safety for youngsters when using social apps, which may also give more assurance to regulators and legislators who may be considering bans and restrictions.

Yet, at the same time, Utah’s new law change could be the start of a broader shift, which may see youngsters further restricted from using social apps, and could have a big impact for marketers looking to connect with younger audiences via digital platforms.

Which makes some sense. Again, many youngsters have died taking part in harmful TikTok challenges, while the psychological harms associated with social apps are well-documented at this stage. Do those impacts outweigh the connective benefits? There’s definitely something to be said for the interactive advantages that social apps also provide, but maybe further restrictions will provide a more positive situation for such moving forward.

It’s interesting to note, in this context, how China has approached gaming, which the CCP sees as a similarly harmful activity that had been causing damage to Chinese youth.

In 2021, the Chinese Government implemented rules which restrict minors to an hour a day in online games, and only on Fridays, weekends and public holidays. The restrictions have had a big impact on gaming addiction, which, in the CCPs view at least, will help youngsters focus on education and schooling, while also keeping them away from more harmful elements of gaming apps.

That seems extreme, but maybe, western legislators will start looking at the data from the Chinese gaming restrictions, and considering what the potential positive benefits could be of similar restrictions on social media usage.

More in-person interactions? More direct social comparison? More physical activity?

It seems that there may be some benefits which could be considered – and maybe, this new push in Utah is just a first step.