Teens Could Sue Over Social-Media Addiction Under Proposed Utah Law

Lawmakers in Utah's House passed a bill that would impose new restrictions on social-media companies, while also paving the way for minors to sue social platforms.

The bill (HB 311), which has not been passed by the state Senate, would prohibit social-media companies with at least 5 million worldwide users from designing their services in ways they know or should know would cause minors to become addicted to the platform.

The bill would also allow minors under the age of 18 to sue social-media companies for “any addiction, financial, physical, or emotional harm” due to using the platform.

If users under the age of 16 sue social-media companies, the bill would create a presumption that the users were harmed by the tech companies. The tech companies would be allowed to offer evidence to rebut that presumption.

The measure comes as lawmakers throughout the country are considering new restrictions on social media platforms.

President Joe Biden in his State of the Union address called for Congress to “hold social media companies accountable for the experiment they are running on our children for profit.”

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to hold address social media and children at a hearing on Tuesday.

An earlier version of the Utah bill that advanced in committee, but not the full House, would have prohibited minors under 16 from using social media platforms, without parental approval.

If passed, it's not clear whether the Utah bill would survive a legal challenge.

The tech industry group NetChoice is currently suing to block a recent California law that requires online companies likely to be accessed by users under 18 to prioritize their “best interests” and “well-being."

Among other claims, NetChoice says the California bill violates the First Amendment because it restricts how online companies can promote content.

NetChoice also argues the California law is inconsistent with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which immunizes web companies from civil lawsuits over material posted by users. The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments next week about whether Section 230 not only protects web companies for hosing user-created material, but also protects companies for decisions about how to display and recommend posts created by users.

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