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FIRE asks federal court to stop Utah’s unconstitutional social media law . . . AGAIN

Just like the first iteration, the state’s second attempt to limit minors from social media is actually an infringement on their civil liberties.
FIRE Plaintiff Hannah Zoulek

Guillaume Bigot

“This law will require me and my mom to give sensitive personal information to major tech companies simply to access platforms that have been an integral part of my development,” said FIRE plaintiff Hannah Zoulek.

Imagine you’re 17 years old, it’s your senior year of high school, and you’re headed to your dream college next year. You’re not sure where life will lead after that, and you want to make sure you have an impact in your hometown before you leave. Let’s say there’s a social movement you’d like to be a part of, or political organizing you’d like to do because you care deeply about a cause. 

So what happens next? Maybe you start a grassroots organization with some peers who are passionate about the same issue. You plan a rally and publicize it on social media. But the only people who like — or even seem to see — your posts are your friends and family. You plan another rally, and the same thing happens again. For some reason, your posts don’t seem to reach anyone that you’re not already connected to. 

Why? Because you live in Utah. 

Earlier this year, Utah passed a law unilaterally mandating that everyone under 18 years old may only be allowed access to a restricted version of social media that reduces it to the functional equivalent of a group text. 

Hannah Zoulek

LAWSUIT: Utah’s clumsy attempt to childproof social media is an unconstitutional mess

Press Release

FIRE sued Utah officials over the new law that requires every social media user in the state to verify their age.

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Specifically, Utah’s law requires every social media user to verify that they are at least 18 years old. If you’re not — or if you are, and you refuse to provide your government identification — then you are required to use a highly limited version of social media. That version would prevent your posts from being viewed by, or you receiving messages from, anyone you’re not already connected to. This stripped-down version of social media would hide you (and your grassroots organization, if you run its profile) from the results of all searches initiated by anyone you’re not already connected to. 

Believe it or not, the first iteration of the law would’ve prevented you from having any social media accounts at all — unless your parents let you. (Let’s hope your parents support your activism.) 

But the first version of the law is no more, because in January FIRE and other civil liberties groups filed lawsuits challenging it as an unconstitutional prior restraint on minors’ protected speech and an unconstitutional infringement on their right to access constitutionally protected content. Rather than defend it in court, Utah officials repealed the law. 

But they replaced it with one that is equally unconstitutional. 

These regulations are misguided, and FIRE won’t stop so long as Utah keeps passing laws that violate its citizens’ First Amendment Rights.

Last Friday, FIRE filed an amended complaint and a motion for a preliminary injunction that would stop the new law from going into effect on Oct. 1 of this year. In addition to the original plaintiffs, which include a recent high school graduate, adults who escaped abusive homes and now use social media to aid young people in similar circumstances, and mothers with teens who use social media, FIRE is representing two new plaintiffs: a high school senior and a student environmental activist group, Utah Youth Environmental Solutions, which operates a program for teenagers from 14 to 17 every summer to educate them about environmental justice and protecting the state’s natural resources. UYES advertises these opportunities, as well as other resources and information, on social media, and also communicates with teenagers interested in the organization through these channels.

The plaintiffs in this lawsuit deserve better from Utah, as do all minors, their families, and the organizations that help them. These regulations are misguided, and FIRE won’t stop so long as Utah keeps passing laws that violate its citizens’ First Amendment rights.

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