Protecting Children from Social Media

Utah’s Social Media Regulation Act: Too little too late?

The Utah Social Media Regulation Act is a unique legislative effort to protect children against the pernicious and pervasive influence of social media on youth. Utah’s nascent legislation aims to mitigate the adverse effects social media platforms often have on minors, their self-esteem, and mental health, and harm to their families, amid growing concerns about children’s mental health, increased child suicides, and rising health costs. The Act’s recent repeal and replacement highlight ongoing debates about the best regulatory approach to balance the benefits and harms of social media use among young people.

The Problem: Social Media’s Impact on Children’s Mental Health

Over the last 20 years, social media has had profound (and devastating) effects on society– particularly on children and adolescents. Numerous studies document a correlation (if not direct causal link) between social media use and mental health issues among young users. For instance, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that excessive social media increases the likelihood of depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances in adolescents.1 The immersive nature of these platforms, combined with the pressures of social comparison and cyberbullying, has exacerbated mental health issues in this vulnerable population.

These consequences are not shocking as recent congressional investigations have exposed how Facebook2, and TikTok3 have been intentionally exploiting the minds of youth and adults with algorithms that amplify contention and other negative and destructive emotions because those types of digital activities generate more user interaction (aka more revenue for Facebook), with even more harmful effects forecasted on the horizon.4

In Utah, alarming statistics underscore these national trends. According to the Utah Department of Health, Utah has experienced a significant increase in youth suicide rates over the past decade, with social media as a clear contributing factor. The incessant exposure to “picture perfect” images that create a false reality, and the constant pursuit of online validation and connection from “likes” and “followers” have created an environment teeming with mental health stresses and struggles. What’s worse, cyberbullying incidents have surged, as the anonymity of online activity allows for key board cowards, to shout from the side lines, destroy the confidence of their peers, and cause devastating consequences for many families and youth. Especially as many youth turned to social media platforms to find societal connection during the quarantines pandemic.

  1. See Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2019). Media Use and Child and Adolescent Mental Health: Findings
    from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, Journal of the American Medical Association.
  2. See MIT Technology Review, “The Facebook whistleblower says its algorithms are dangerous. Here’s why.”
    available at:
    algorithms/ (last visited June 22, 2024)
  3. “TikTok’s Danger to Teens in Focus During US Congressional Hearing”, Reuters, available at (last
    visited June 22, 2024).
  4. See “Themes: The most harmful or menacing changes in digital life that are likely by

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