Social media regulation bills increase across U.S.

April 12, 2023

With the start of 2023, speculation over social media regulation laws immediately came about and the bills aimed at doing so quickly followed suit. On Jan. 1, CNBC published an article entitled “More social media regulation is coming in 2023, members of Congress say” and so far this statement has proven increasingly true. The article, published just a few days after the bipartisan spending bill that effectively banned TikTok from government devices was passed, is one of many that discusses this topic and directly relates the regulations to teen social media use. 

Since Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed two social media regulation laws into effect on March 23, Senate Bill 152 and House Bill 311, these restrictions are becoming a reality. These laws, the first like them in the nation, were designed with the purpose of protecting youth from the addictive nature of social media platforms. 

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a large number of students use social media, with each of them using it to varying degrees, leaving them with their own completely unique experiences. Consequently, they also have a variety of different opinions on social media and the consequences that may come with it, as well as the benefits they may reap from it. 

“I do believe that social media can be addictive and harmful, but I would not say that I, personally, am addicted to it or suffer from either of those consequences,” sophomore Ava Ansari said. “While I am on it often, and an amount adults may consider too much, I do other things, have other hobbies and enjoy activities outside of social media. Ultimately, it is not my whole world and it is not appropriate to call my use of it an addiction. It is not harming me and therefore, I see no reason why I should not be permitted to use it whenever I choose.” 

Among other things, the laws in Utah would prohibit social media use by minors without parental consent, require social media companies to grant parents access to their children’s accounts, prevent social media use by minors between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. and require age verification, the type of which has not yet been clarified, for anyone attempting to use a social media platform in the state. 

“I feel like parents being able to see their children’s messages [through social media] and posts is an invasion of privacy, but I could also see why parents would want to be able to see these things,” freshman Jaylee Garcia said. “They’d want to know what the child is doing or who they might be talking to, but at the end of the day, parents and their children should sit down and have conversations to establish trust and boundaries.” 

However, such laws may not be confined to Utah much longer. In fact, similar proposals are advancing in a number of other states including Iowa, Texas and Louisiana. 

In Iowa, the introduced HF 526—currently referred to the House Ways and Means Committee—as it is written now, would ban all children under the age of 18 from possessing any social media accounts. Opposed to keeping it as is, many lawmakers including Rep. John Wills (R) have expressed their desire to amend the bill so that it resembles Utah’s in the sense that minors over the age of 12 will require parental consent instead of being banned from social media platforms outright, as children of or below 12 will be. 

In Texas, HB 896, introduced and referred to the Youth Health and Safety Committee on March 1, would, as it is written now, prohibit all children under 18 years of age from using social media. 

Finally, in Louisiana, Sen. Patrick McMath is in the process of filing a bill that would require parental consent for teen social media use and create blackout times一between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. like Utah’s一in which teenagers will not be allowed to use social media apps, with restrictions targeting children of or below 16 years of age. 

Although, already established in Louisiana is a controversial law known as Act 440, which requires age verification to access pornographic websites. This age verification is being done through an app called LA Wallet, which since December 2020 has been considered a legal equivalent to a physical license in the state. Still, this law and other localized bans are easily avoidable by using VPNs. 

“I think limits on social media could be beneficial to some people, but I don’t think we should try to control people,” Garcia said. “After a certain age, people should be able to customize these limits and if they don’t want limits, that’s their discussion. These limits are something that parents should discuss with their children.”

Critics of such laws claim that they are, among other things, an infringement upon the First Amendment rights granted to all Americans. As proof, they cite the fact that these laws will be requiring online services to collect private and sensitive information to verify not just age, but paternal relation. This includes things such as birth certificates and IDs, data that might be put at risk as a result. In addition to stating that these laws are unconstitutional, many critics have also expressed skepticism over how laws such as these will be enforceable by the states passing them. 

“[While] I do think having limits on social media can be useful because you get so ‘trapped’ in the app that you don’t realize how long you’re scrolling, [I also think] some parts of the laws go against children’s privacy,” freshman Shani Shtaeinweis said. “You see this invasion of privacy with social media companies collecting minors’ data especially.”

In defense of such laws, legislators cite studies showing mental health issues as they relate to social media. For instance, one by the National Center for Health found that 13% of kids ages 12-17 report depression and 32% report anxiety, age groups that also report high usage of social media.

Still, in many MSD students’ opinions, state laws regulating teen social media usage are not the solution. While it is generally agreed that social media can definitely be a contributing factor to mental health issues, a lot of students still see these laws as unnecessary and ultimately, overkill. 

“I do believe that social media harms teens’ mental health because it gives them unhealthy ideals that they feel the need to live up [to, but] I think that laws [restricting teen social media use] aren’t necessary,” senior Emma Velez said. “Teens themselves just need better education on social media and how to use it without harming themselves or others. In some cases, parental permissions help, especially when the individual is under 14 [and I also] think that teens should have a blackout time before they go to sleep so that they can get a better rest, but a state mandate is quite frankly overkill.”

Yet, regardless of the opinions of many MSD students, these laws are already being passed and may soon prove to be a reality for MSD students as they are for so many other high schoolers in the U.S., especially with the intensity at which they continue to sweep across the nation.

However, legislature concerning social media use is not confined to individual states, having become a priority of the national government in addition to those on a more local scale. As of late, this has become even more apparent, with Congress attempting to ban TikTok, an action that would undeniably affect teens, whether that be for better or for worse. 

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