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Reviews | Utah social media law shows lawmakers don’t understand tech platforms

Reviews |  Utah social media law shows lawmakers don't understand tech platforms
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Republican Utah Governor Spencer Cox recently signed two state bills that go to great lengths to restrict access to social media for those under 18. While almost everyone agrees that social media can affect young people in troubling ways, this is the most sweeping piece of legislation in the country. saw youngsters taking control and giving it to their parents.

It’s hard to grant Republicans like Cox the assumption of good faith on issues involving freedom of thought when their party is so busy banning books. But in this case, they seem sincere. The problem is that even if you agree with them, and even if you could solve the complicated philosophical questions raised by social media restrictions, few politicians know how to achieve what they’re trying to accomplish.

Utah laws show why. Some of their provisions seem simple enough: for example, they would require social media companies to restrict minors from accessing their apps between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. They would also require parental permission for anyone under the age of 18 to use these apps at all.

But how will young people verify their age with the app? And how will a parent verify with the app that they are indeed the parent of this minor? If you don’t like the amount of information tech companies have about you and your kids, how about uploading copies of your driver’s license and your 16-year-old’s birth certificate to allow him to use Snapchat?

These issues are so thorny that even Common Sense Media, a centrist and established organization as you can imagine, spoke out against one of Utah’s bills. (Although he backed the bill requiring companies to avoid features that could cause “addiction,” which is so hard to define it will be impossible to implement.)

The law requires social media companies to create processes for young people and parents to verify their age and identity. But Jason Kelley, associate director of digital strategy at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the guidelines were far too vague to be effective.

“I don’t think the lawmakers working on the bill gave more than five seconds of thought to the complexity and invasiveness of this implementation,” Kelley told me.

This bill won’t take effect until 2024, and Kelley predicts that even if it survives legal challenges, compliance with verification requirements would be so difficult that companies could respond by simply banning anyone from under 18 to use their platforms. Which would probably suit some lawmakers.

The Utah law is also interesting given how much Republicans have spoken about protecting the privacy of young people, especially as it relates to TikTok. Several bills proposing to ban the platform, whose parent company is located in China, have been introduced in Congress, and members of the House recently asked its CEO if Americans’ data could be accessed by the Chinese government. . “TikTok is China’s backdoor into American lives,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), author of a suggested ban. TikTok “collects data on tens of millions of American children and adults every day,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

But if they are so concerned about privacy, what about how young people’s privacy is affected by laws like those passed in Utah? A provision would grant parents access to anything their children say or hear on social media. When you were a teenager, did you want your parents to spy on all your communications with your friends?

The idea that young people have the right to express themselves and receive the information was not discussed much. The United States is the only UN member state that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states, among other things, that “the child has the right to freedom of expression; this right includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of any kind”.

More attention should be paid to children’s rights, rather than simply debating how they should be protected. “Kids are really smart. That’s one of the issues,” Cox said in defending the bills he signed into law, not exactly a ringing endorsement of their autonomy.

In fact, lawmakers don’t seem to be hearing much from young people as they debate new laws governing social media – including what young people earn of her, not just the threats she poses to them. “It’s criminal that we ignore the young people who are the subject of conversation and the people affected by these bills,” Kelley told me.

There is certainly a need to regulate social media and technology platforms. The government regulates all kinds of industries. Safeguards can be put in place to govern what tech companies do with our data: what information they are allowed to collect (about adults and teens); how they can track users; and to whom they can sell this data.

But the more sweeping and ambitious the proposals become, the more lawmakers reveal they have almost no understanding of what they are trying to regulate. This is never a recipe for good law.

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