Just as the State does not (and cannot) keep all books under lock and key because some are inappropriate for some children, it cannot categorically restrict every young person’s access to social media. Yet the Utah Social Media Regulation Act does just that.
From the printing press in the 1400s to the motion pictures of the twenty-first century, politicians have repeatedly tried to address questions inspired by new technology with broad, one-size-fits-all speech restrictions. Now, as society begins to explore the varied effects of social media on young people, Utah’s legislators again default to censorship.
Utah’s Social Media Regulation Act prohibits citizens under 18 from using social media platforms absent parental consent. The law requires users of all ages to provide personal identification before they can use or maintain a social media account. It also places broad restrictions on how minors interact on social media, even after they have parental consent. For example, under the law, minors cannot directly message any user that they are not “friends” with and cannot use social media after a state-imposed curfew.
On January 12, 2024, a current high school student who testified against the Act and three adults who escaped an abusive polygamous community sued in federal court to challenge the Social Media Act. Like many high school students, Hannah Zoulek uses social media to communicate, express ideas, associate with peers, and learn. But if Utah’s law takes effect, Hannah fears it will infringe on teens’ expression and their ability to discuss important issues such as mental health. Lu Ann Cooper, Jessica Christensen, and Val Snow, who all escaped from a controlling polygamist sect, know that Utah’s law will prevent other young people in abusive environments from accessing the help and information they need.
The Utah residents, jointly represented by FIRE and the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, ask the court to declare the law unconstitutional and halt the law’s enforcement before it takes effect on March 1, 2024.
Just like prior attempts to child-proof technology, the Act presupposes that every single minor in Utah experiences negative effects from social media and second-guesses Utah families’ judgments about how to manage young people’s social media use.
UPDATE: On January 19, 2024, Utah passed a bill delaying the implementation of the Social Media Act from March 1, 2024 until October 1, 2024.