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Rough Day for Social Media in Federal, State Capitols

On the same day that TikTok's chief executive experienced a bipartisan pummeling on Capitol Hill, Utah broke new social-media-regulation ground passing laws regulating how and when children and teens use social media. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed two bills into law, one that requires age verification to open a social media account as of March 1, 2024, and another that prohibits social-media companies from “using a design or feature that causes a minor to have an addiction to the company’s social media platform," the Wall Street Journal reports. That law bars minors' use from 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. and, according to Cox, makes it easier for users to sue social-media companies. “We’re no longer willing to let social-media companies continue to harm the mental health of our youth,” Cox said in a tweet. The age verification law requires people under 18 to get consent from a parent or guardian to open an account and it gives parents full access to minors' accounts. Despite civil liberties objections to the bills, the Utah legislation signals growing political backlash to social media.

That backlash was on full display as TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew told a House hearing that the company was taking steps to earn trust, the Journal reports. “Our approach has never been to dismiss or trivialize any of these concerns. We have addressed them with real action,” he said of concerns about China's potential influence over the app. Committee members from both parties made it clear they weren't convinced. The bipartisan hostility to TikTok further clouds the future of a platform that TikTok says is used by 150 million Americans. TikTok’s travails have put it at the center of strained ties between the world’s two great economic powers as they quarrel over issues including trade policy, surveillance and technological development. Washington has stepped up sanctions against Chinese companies, and Beijing has deployed regulatory enforcement and other pressure tactics against American businesses. A fund backed by China’s cybersecurity watchdog holds a 1% stake in the core subsidiary of TikTok’s Chinese parent, Bytedance Ltd., a what is called “golden share” that gives the regulator a board seat at the subsidiary, voting power and sway over its business decisions. Under questioning from Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), Chew said that under the company’s security plan, TikTok’s data would be stored in the U.S. and controlled by a U.S. company, alleviating the concern. Crenshaw responded: “I want to say this to all the teenagers out there and TikTok influencers who think we’re just old and out of touch and…. trying to take away your favorite app. You may not care that your data is being accessed now, but it will be one day when you do care about it.”


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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