The Utah Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would prevent minors from signing up for social media without parental consent, but a recent change says social media companies can't rely solely on government-issued IDs to verify users' ages.
SB152 would require social media companies to verify the ages of all users in Utah, and the change came after several people expressed concern about being required to upload their government IDs to prove to companies that they are old enough. Bill sponsor Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, said the bill would empower the state's Division of Consumer Protection to come up with rules for verification in concert with companies.
The bill doesn't explicitly detail how companies can verify users, but McKell said there are third-party options that use various technologies to verify ages without government IDs. Those could include facial recognition software or using existing consumer data to verify an individual's age.
"We also make it clear that we want there to be other options other than a government ID," McKell told reporters on Wednesday after the bill's passage. "Technology is really good now. As I've met with stakeholders, they've brought some ideas with some technologies and we want to make sure that those are addressed when we do the verification process."
Mitigating the harms of social media on children has been a key, bipartisan issue for the Legislature this year, although lawmakers have disagreed somewhat when it comes to taking concrete steps. A separate bill, sponsored by Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, which would make it easier for people to sue social media platforms over alleged harms to children, passed the House last week.
McKell referenced a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while speaking about his bill in the Senate. CDC data shows that teen girls in the U.S. have faced a dramatic increase in persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, up from 36% in 2011 to 57% in 2021. Nearly one-third of teen girls in 2021 seriously considered attempting suicide.
Although the data isn't as stark when it comes to teen boys, Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, asked her colleagues not to forget the impacts on boys and young men. Riebe referenced the recent mass shooting at Michigan State University, saying that while she appreciates the effort to make schools safer, the discussion should not just "portray females as the victims" of social media.
"We keep talking about the girls in our community," she said. "But we really do have another problem in this state and in this country with the males accessing social media ... that's causing adverse behavior in our schools."
McKell cited several alarming statistics related to mental health for young men, including that 7% of those surveyed attempted suicide in 2021, according to the CDC.
Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, commended McKell for running the bill, saying it's something the Legislature needs to address.
"When you see ... numbers like that, young women that are going into the emergency room and having challenges — and young men for that matter — we need to do something," he said. "And again, it's probably not a perfect bill ... I just think it's about time we did something."
After passing the Senate 23-4 — with Riebe, Sens. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, John Johnson, R-North Ogden, and David Hinkins, R-Herron, in opposition — SB152 now heads to the House.