Utah Gov. Spencer Cox unveiled his new social media awareness campaign Thursday.

The campaign, in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Commerce, seeks to provide parents with information about how social media affects the development of children.

“This campaign is going to help our parents understand what’s behind these masks that these kids are wearing,” said Aimee Winder Newton, senior advisor and director of the Office of Families in the governor’s office.

The harms of social media campaign launched two television ads showcasing kids wearing masks to hide the “unbearable” pain that can be caused by using social media.

Cox said research shows parents are concerned about their children’s mental health, body image, brain development and sleep patterns. According to their research, 88% of Utah parents say social media has a detrimental impact on the mental health and well-being of children.

“What we’re trying to do is empower parents, give parents the tools that they need to actually raise their kids. We do believe that parents should be raising their kids and not social media companies, and that is what is happening right now,” Cox said.  

Surveys show 76% of Utah children use social media in some capacity, with 57% of kids using it seven days a week and 53% using it 1-3 hours a day.

Winder Newton said as a parent of young adults, she’s not sure she fully understands what kids have dealt with on social media.

“They need to know how dangerous this is ... we need parents to understand that this is something that their kids are struggling with,” Winder Newton said.

Aimee Winder Newton, senior adviser to Gov. Spencer Cox and director of the Office of Families, left, and Cox announce the launch of a new public awareness campaign urging parents to learn about the harms social media has on youth at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The campaign offers tips for parents on how to protect their children, including creating a family media plan, tech-free zones and reconsidering allowing their children to have social media.

Cox said he doesn’t allow his 16-year-old daughter to have social media but the pressure to have social media is “enormous.”

“When everyone has access to it all of the time, it just makes it that much more difficult and even those parents who are doing everything right, have seen incredible damage happen,” he said. “Kids are very resourceful. We understand that they’re able to find ways around it, but this matters and what we’re hoping to do is empower parents.”

Kids aren’t the only ones who should limit their social media use, the governor said.

“It’s not just a problem for young people. There are plenty of adults that are addicted to social media, and it’s causing a lot of harm there as well,” Cox said. “So I think we would all do better, put our phones away, spend more time together.”

The goal isn’t to completely remove social media from kids’ lives.

“We’re trying to teach them healthy habits. ... We’re trying to force social media companies to remove the most addictive features when it comes to kids accounts,” Cox said.

Cox is quite active on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter.

“I’m certainly spending less time on social media platforms ... Social media has the potential to be incredibly positive,” Cox said. “We all thought it was going to be the greatest thing that ever happened to us as a society, and it turns out it’s been the exact opposite.”

Utah is the first state to enact legislation restricting social media access for minors.

This year, the legislature passed two bills regulating social media. Both will take effect on March 1, 2024. Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, created an age verification requirement for Utahns wishing to use social media with S.B. 152, the Utah Social Media Regulation Act.

H.B. 311 from Rep. Jordan Tuescher, R-South Jordan, prohibits a social media company from using any design element or feature deemed as addictive to minors.

On July 25, Cox and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes filed a motion to hold TikTok in contempt of court for failing to comply with subpoenas issued in Utah’s case against the company.

The Division of Consumer Protections issued two investigative subpoenas — one in February and one in May.

Gov. Spencer Cox announces the launch of a new public awareness campaign urging parents to learn about the harms social media has on youth at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Cox said the litigation is ongoing and that the attorney general’s team is working to compile data and evidence to be used to compel TikTok to answer their inquiries.

In terms of future lawsuits, Cox said there will be more.

While this campaign doesn’t specifically play into future litigation, Cox said there’s a multi-prong campaign to hold social media companies accountable.

“And so what the multi-prong campaign is: one, a PR campaign to let people know of the dangers that are out there,” Cox said.

The second part is legislation passed which will go into effect next year.

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McKell said there are ongoing discussions with stakeholders about future social media legislation.

“At this point, we’re reviewing what we’ve passed, we’re reviewing concerns that may come forward for rulemaking,” he said.

The third part is legally holding social media companies accountable.

“Number three is legally holding them accountable, especially companies who may have hidden information that they knew of the dangers and damages that were occurring to young people and tried to hide that information and increase the dangers to our kids,” Cox said.

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