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In early 2024, social media executives were once again called to testify publicly in front of Congress. And, once again, they promised to do better with users on their platforms, especially when it comes to protecting the mental health of young teens.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg even publicly apologized in front of the parents who attended the event in Washington. Executives like Zuckerberg seem to be doing and saying everything right, but one can’t help feeling that their companies really don’t plan to make any extensive changes going forward.
New efforts to protect young social media users
Take, for example, what’s happening in the state of Utah. There, state officials have enacted new legislation that will go into effect on March 1. The legislation is designed to shift the playing field in favor of parents and their children, and away from the Big Tech companies. Taking a big picture view, the legislation is supposed to protect the mental health of young children.
Utah will require parental authorization if young users plan to use social media between the hours of 10:30 pm and 6:30 am. In essence, it’s a social media curfew. In theory, it should keep kids away from their phones and social media during their bedtimes.
Moreover, young users will need to provide age verification in order to use the social media platforms. That means kids under the age of 13, who are supposed to be blocked from using these platforms anyway, will find it close to impossible to use platforms like Meta, TikTok, Instagram, or Snapchat.
You would think that the big social media companies would applaud these steps. After all, if Instagram currently says young pre-teens can’t sign up for their service, why should they be bothered by the new restrictions? If Meta says that it doesn’t want young kids using their platform at all hours of the night, why should they even think twice about a new social media curfew?
Big Tech vs. Utah
And that’s where things get interesting, because tech lobbyist groups – not the Big Tech companies themselves – are suing Utah over what they see as strict new limits on social media use by minors.
As they see it, the moves by the state of Utah are “unconstitutional.” According to the lobbyists, the Utah legislation is a misguided attempt to block Americans from seeing publicly-available content. In essence, this is a censorship argument that has been twisted into a giant pretzel. They claim that Utah is censoring content from young minors who shouldn’t be seeing this content in the first place.
What happens next?
This, unfortunately, is a pattern that we’ve seen over and over again with Big Tech. Publicly, they champion the mental health of young users. Privately, however, they take every step possible to block new restrictions. And they do so by invoking the Constitution, and raising the specter of government overreach.
But now is the time to stand with Utah. It’s time parents and educators rally together to protect our nation’s youth. If the big social media companies are really serious about this, they will do so as well.