IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

How 4 States Are Trying to Regulate Social Media for Teens

In Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Utah, lawmakers this session are trying to balance digital privacy and children’s mental health issues as they seek to implement social media mandates.

As legislative sessions wind on around the nation, lawmakers continue trying to regulate teen social media usage, while striking a balance between safeguarding child mental health and upholding digital privacy.

Florida became the latest state to pass this type of social media legislation — with Gov. Ron DeSantis signing House Bill 3 into law Monday. The bill requires platforms to terminate social media accounts for minors under 14, and only allows 14- and 15-year-olds to become account holders with parental consent. It also requires social media companies to implement a third-party verification system to identify those who are underage and take the appropriate action.

“H.B. 3 gives parents a greater ability to protect their children,” DeSantis said in a news release on the signing.

But critics of bills targeting social media use argue regulating these platforms is difficult, and warn of potential privacy and censorship issues. This wasn’t Florida's first attempt at crafting such a bill. In February, lawmakers approved a bill that would have barred children under 16 from accessing social media altogether. DeSantis vetoed it; H.B. 3 now enables older children to use social media with parental consent. It takes effect Jan. 1. Government Technology contacted DeSantis’ office to ask if officials foresaw any challenges in enforcing the bill, but received no response.

The Sunshine State has considerable company in attempting social media regulation. Numerous bills on the topic are in various legislative stages nationwide, all with the common objective of crafting regulations for minors’ use of social media.

In Utah, Gov. Spencer Cox signed an amendment into law March 13 allowing parents to sue social media platforms if they believe their child's mental health has been impacted.

House Bill 464 Social Media Amendments added on to the original 2023 Utah Social Media Regulation Act, enabling parents to bring a lawsuit to social media companies if they prove that “a Utah minor (a person under the age of 18) has been diagnosed with an adverse mental health outcome by a licensed mental health provider; and that the adverse mental health outcome was caused by the minor’s excessive use of an algorithmically curated social media service.”

A second amendment to the Social Media Regulation Act, Senate Bill 194 — which Cox also signed March 13 — requires social media companies to disable certain addictive product features for minor accounts, requires default privacy settings for minors, and compels social media companies to not share or sell a minor’s data without parental consent.

In Arkansas, The Social Media Safety Act requires social media companies to use third-party vendors to perform age verification checks for any users creating new accounts — essentially requiring minors under 18 to get parental consent before using certain social media platforms. Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed it into law in Arkansas April 12, 2023.

“While social media can be a great tool and a wonderful resource, it can have a massive negative impact on our kids,” she said at a press conference. The bill was never enforced because a judge issued an injunction on behalf of NetChoice — a tech advocacy group representing TikTok, Meta and X — Aug. 31.

In Georgia, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones introduced Senate Bill 351 Jan. 12, also referred to as the “Protecting Georgia's Children on Social Media Act of 2024,” to address social media’s potential impact on children’s mental health. The proposed legislation mandates social media platforms implement effective measures for the age verification of users. The bill also requires the Georgia Department of Education create and regularly update educational programs to teach students safe social media usage rules. However, Thursday is the last day of Georgia's two-year legislative session, and it therefore appears unlikely to pass.
Ashley Silver is a staff writer for Government Technology. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Montevallo and a graduate degree in public relations from Kent State University. Silver is also a published author with a wide range of experience in editing, communications and public relations.