Utah Governor Says He’s Gearing up to Sue Social Media Companies for Knowingly Harming Children

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
July 10, 2023Business News
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Utah Governor Says He’s Gearing up to Sue Social Media Companies for Knowingly Harming Children
Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox speaks during a briefing at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Jan. 8, 2021. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News via AP)

Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said on Sunday that he’s preparing to sue social media companies for causing harm to young children in the state.

In an interview with CBS’ “Face The Nation” on July 9, Mr. Cox said that “when you look at the new research that’s coming out, there’s not just a correlation between social media use and an increase in suicide, anxiety, depression, self-harm, there is a causal link there.”

“In the coming months, you will see lawsuits being filed by the state of Utah to hold them accountable,” Mr. Cox added. “We believe they’ve known about the dangers. Some of this has been leaked out—Meta and others—very clear evidence that they knew the harms that their products were causing to kids, and that they intentionally tried to hide that information. And of course to not make changes that are necessary to protect our kids, and so we’re looking forward to having our day in court on that issue.”

Mr. Cox did not provide a specific timeline for which social media companies his administration may try to sue first and on what grounds, but he said “we’re looking at all social media companies right now.”

The Republican governor had previously raised the prospect of suing social media companies. At a Jan. 23 press conference, Mr. Cox joined Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to announce they were considering a range of options to address how minors are using social media.

“While we hope to work cooperatively with tech companies to address these many concerns, we feel litigation is likely a necessary step to increase the urgency and seriousness of implementing child safeguards,” the Utah attorney general said in January.

New Social Media Control Rules

In March, Utah passed Senate Bill 152, the Utah Social Media Regulation Act, which imposed new requirements for social media companies to verify that those living in the state are at least 18 years old before they set up a social media profile. The bill, which takes effect in March 2024, would require social media companies to obtain the consent of a parent or guardian before allowing anyone under the age of 18 to set up a social media profile.

SB 152 included a number of other features for minors, such as requiring social media companies to block direct messaging by anyone who the minor has not added as a friend or followed on the platform. The bill also requires social media companies to implement a default setting restricting minors from accessing their platforms from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., with tools for a parent or guardian to modify the time restrictions.

“What we’re trying to do is give families more control over what is happening on social media,” he said.

The Utah governor predicted social media companies will target his state with lawsuits challenging the new law, just as his administration is preparing to sue social media companies.

“I’m sure we’ll have social media companies suing the state of Utah,” he said. “In fact, we’re going to be suing social media companies for the harm and damage that they’re causing our young people. I suspect that at some point, the Supreme Court will weigh in on this decision when it comes to restricting youth access.”

Even outside the court system, Mr. Cox has acknowledged that Utah’s new social media regulations will be difficult to enforce.

“We understand that there are definitely going to be enforcement issues anytime you wade into this type of an industry,” the Utah governor said during a March 26. “It’s going to be tough. We don’t expect that we’re going to be able to prevent every, you know, every young person from getting around this. Kids are really smart. That’s one of the problems.”

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