SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and the State of Utah have put social media companies on notice with the intent to file a lawsuit in the interest of protecting children online.
Neither the full suit nor the timeline as to when it might be filed has yet been made public. However, Cox and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said the lawsuit could be filed as soon as next month, and any and all claims are up for consideration. Cox and Reyes did not name any specific social media company targeted as part of the intended lawsuit.
The announcement comes just five days after U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) announced plans to introduce federal legislation that would enact a ban on social media accounts for any child under the age of 16.
While policy-making through legislation, such as the bill introduced by Stewart, is one way of forcing companies into implementing safeguards, Cox and Reyes said it may not be enough. During a press conference on Monday, Jan. 23, the two said strong legal action may be likely a necessary step in increasing the urgency and seriousness of implementing child safeguards.
Cox said on Monday that social media is negatively affecting teens. He said platforms are distracting them, disrupting sleep, and exposing them to bullying, unrealistic views, peer pressure, and harmful rumors. He also said social media companies were aware of the harm they cause to children.
“It is very telling when the very people building these apps refuse to let their kids have them. That should tell you everything you need to know about how dangerous these are,” said Cox. “They are designed intentionally to make sure that you never put them down. This is very intentional. They teach these classes at Stanford and other places.”
Before the lawsuit can move forward, Cox and Reyes said they are seeking to hire outside attorneys to help in the lawsuit. Cox said the businesses the state will be going up against have lots of “highly paid, highly compensated” attorneys and the state is going to need to match their firepower.
Cox emphasized the lawsuit was intended only to protect children online and is not aimed at affecting how adults browse social media websites. Reyes said the State of Utah is not trying to say social media is inherently good or evil, but that safeguards need to be implemented such as better moderation and tighter verification rules.
“In many cases [these companies] have helped us,” said Reyes. “They do good things for our society. In certain cases in law enforcement, for example, they have helped us recover abducted children. They’ve helped us identify victims. They’ve been good on social messaging and awareness. But all the good that they do does not excuse the fact they are not doing enough and that’s what our frustration is.”
As of Monday, the State of Utah is alone in its lawsuit, however, Cox said he suspects other states will be interested in the claims they are looking at. Cox pointed toward the State of Indiana filing a lawsuit against TikTok to protect children and the recent lawsuit against social media companies filed by the Seattle School District.
Cox and Reyes said they will be having another press conference in the “not-too-distant future” to further discuss the lawsuit and release more details.