Explainer: Utah’s age verification for social media and porn access

Privacy news
6 mins
Utah social media bill explained

If you’re under 18 and living in Utah, your access to social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram will be limited soon. The Utah Social Media Regulation Act, better known as the Utah social media bill, was passed into law in March 2023 and is set to impose a sweeping set of restrictions on social media for anyone under 18. This law will come into effect on March 1, 2024.

And more recently, on May 3, 2023, a different law came into effect in Utah requiring adult site users to verify their age using their ID cards every session. Pornhub and other adult sites are protesting the law by blocking Utah-based IP addresses.

Concerns about privacy and security have arisen; people don’t want to hand over their IDs to websites and lose any sense of anonymity. Some say these laws are privacy invasions and infringe on First Amendment rights. And other have noted how easy it is to overcome these restrictions with a VPN.

Read more: The U.S. Restrict Act explained

What is the new law in Utah about social media?

The Utah social media bill is said to protect children from addictive features and targeted ads on social platforms and their mental health. It is made up of two laws—H.B. 311 and S.B. 152

The first, H.B. 311, prohibits social media platforms from using techniques and features that would cause minors to develop an “addiction” to them. The second, S.B. 152, requires social media platforms to conduct age verification for Utah users and obtain parental consent for users under 18 looking to create an account.

Here’s some of what the Utah social media bill covers:

  • Social media platforms need to enforce age verification for users 
  • Parental consent must be sought for users under 18 creating social media accounts
  • Social media platforms must give parents access to their children’s private posts and messages
  • A social media curfew must be enforced, with anyone under 18 barred from accessing the platforms between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.
  • Social media platforms are prohibited from displaying ads or targeted content to minors, collecting their personal information, and displaying minors in public search results
  • Minors with social media accounts now have the right to claim damages for addiction, physical harm, or emotional harm incurred as a result of using a social media platform

How the Utah social media bill will be enforced is not immediately clear. Though, we could look at the similar age-based Utah porn bill and its enforcement. In that bill, adult sites must verify users using a “digitized identification card” approved by the state.

Is Utah the first state to limit social media?

With the passing of the Utah social media bill in March 2023, Utah became the first U.S. state to limit the use of social media for anyone under 18. As a state law, the Utah social media bill only affects anyone with a Utah IP address. However, the Utah social media bill has set a precedent, and other states are following suit.

What other states might pass laws to restrict social media access?

In April 2023, Arkansas became the second U.S. state to pass a law limiting the use of social media. Arkansas’s social media bill mirrors that of Utah’s in that users must be at least 18 years old to create a new social media account, and social media platforms must enforce age verification through government-issued ID.

Wisconsin has also proposed legislation giving parents full control over their kids’ social media accounts and imposing a curfew for social media users under 18. Other states mulling over social media laws requiring age verification of minors and parental consent include Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas.

California’s social media bill takes a different approach to safeguarding minors on social media. The bill passed in August 2022 mandated safeguards for minors by requiring social media platforms to default to privacy and safety settings. The bill goes into effect in July 2024, but it is currently being challenged in court.

Criticisms of social media restrictions

Age verification and other restrictions on social media use have plenty of opposition. Here are the main concerns surrounding a law like Utah’s social media bill.

It infringes on the First Amendment

Tech lobbyists argue that the Utah social media bill infringes on people’s right to exercise free speech under the First Amendment. They claim that by requiring users to identify themselves through verification, users who wish to remain anonymous for any reason, be it political, religious, or sexuality, can no longer do so and would instead suppress their speech.

Others argue that preventing anonymous browsing and posting infringes on people’s First Amendment rights. Allowing parents unfettered access to their children’s posts and messages would place certain groups of people in further harm, such as LGBTQ children or children in abusive homes. Their ability to seek help online would be hampered without the protection of anonymity.

The Association of National Advertisers points out that prohibiting advertising on teenagers’ social media would limit their ability to get the information they may seek, which could be served as ad-based recommendations for jobs, colleges, and other resources.

While state legislators argue that these laws are necessary to protect children’s mental and physical well-being, lobbyists point out that the First Amendment covers everyone of all ages.

It puts personal data at risk of breaches or misuse

The Electronic Frontier Foundation highlighted that while the aim of age verification is to limit the access of minors on social media platforms, it could put the personal data of adult U.S. citizens at risk of misuse and breaches.

You might be thinking, so what? Data breaches happen all the time. You’re not wrong, but this time, hackers will have access to information on your government ID, like your home address and driver’s license number.

It limits access to online spaces

The lack of anonymity brought about by enforcing verification checks on users limits access to safe online spaces for marginalized groups. For example, if you’re an LGBTQ person forced to leave home, you might be hesitant to turn to a Facebook group for help out of the fear that you’d be outing yourself to whoever has access to verification data. Depending on where you are, that could potentially be really dangerous.

It enables more data collection of minors

While the Utah social media bill and others like it aim to curtail the data collection of minors, it paradoxically would enable greater data collection. These laws require social media platforms to enforce verification checks, essentially serving up millions of people’s personal and familial data to data-hungry companies.

Lawmakers counter that verification checks will only be done on adults, and anyone who cannot prove they’re above 18 would default to a “minor account.” While this might seem to protect children’s data from collection, existing laws already prevent the data collection of anyone under 13. 

Social media platforms might completely block access

Without federal legislation, different states have created different laws limiting social media, while requiring platforms to comply with rules in order to operate locally. This fragmented approach could see social platforms refuse to accommodate every state’s requirements, which are complex and costly for the sites. Plus, there are legal risks for companies if they fail to follow the rules correctly. They might prefer to ban access to users from those states entirely, locking out millions of people from an influential communication method.

What is the Utah law regarding porn access?

The new law surrounding porn sites is more straightforward. Utah is the second state—after Louisiana—mandating that porn sites verify users to be over 18 before giving access. On a federal level, it is illegal to show minors pornography, but the rule has not been strictly enforced online.

Major adult site Pornhub, in protest of Utah’s porn bill, blocked access to users with an IP address in Utah. 

FAQ: About the Utah social media bill

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