With the passage of Senate Bill 351, known as the Protecting Georgia’s Children on Social Media Act of 2024, Georgia joins a growing number of other states implementing intrusive regulations on social media users. While these bills take slightly different approaches, they all share the same critical flaws of increased data collection and operate on the presumption that social media use contributes to mental illness.

Georgia’s social media bill is illustrative of a nationwide trend where states like Florida, Utah, and Texas are creating a web of new social media regulations. The Georgia bill bans social media access on school computers and prohibits anyone under the age of 16 from creating a social media account without expressed parental permission. Most notably, social media companies would be forced to treat users as minors until their age is verified. 

Proponents of the bill, such as Georgia’s lieutenant governor, frame the law as necessary to protect children from cyberbullying. Opponents cite free speech and cybersecurity concerns, since  collecting additional information poses a tempting target for hackers.

Several other states have made headlines by passing similar bills restricting minors’ access to social media platforms and faced similar criticism as a result.

  • Utah was the first state to pass such a bill, which was noteworthy for not only requiring that anyone under the age of 18 get parental permission before using social media, but also for prohibiting minors from using social media at all between the hours of 10:30 PM and 6:30 AM. It also requires social media companies to establish age verification protocols to ensure that these laws are enforced.
  • Texas passed a similar law in 2023 requiring anyone under the age of 18 to obtain parental permission to use social media. The law governs how advertisers can use data and requires social media companies to develop parental controls. In addition, the law requires social media companies disclose how their algorithms work.  
  • Florida passed a similar law banning anyone under the age of 14 from having a social media account and requiring children between the ages of 14 and 16  get parental permission. Governor DeSantis argued that the internet has become a “dark alley” and therefore this legislation is necessary. 

While these laws differ state by state, they share key features that come with significant flaws. They tend to assign more blame to social media than is currently supported by scientific evidence.

As is often the case, the reality is far more nuanced. The American Psychological Association released a health advisory in 2023 arguing that social media’s effect on young people is not purely good or bad but depends on the person and how they use the platform. Despite the narrative pushed by advocates of these bills, there is not much consensus on whether there is a causal relationship between social media use and mental health issues among teens. Social media can be used to develop healthy relationships especially for  marginalized children. In addition, research has found many factors contributing to mental illness among young people including the COVID-19 pandemic, biological factors, and social pressures such as racism.

Furthermore, depending on wording, these bills pose a significant threat to privacy. The only way for social media websites to know who is a minor is to verify the age of all users. Any method these companies employ will require collecting some kind of personal data. Ultimately every currently-available method of age verification has to weigh the tradeoffs between privacy and accuracy as current methods do not satisfy both. Even if states pass laws prohibiting companies from permanently retaining user data, they still must trust that these companies will take the necessary steps to adequately protect it from hackers.

Georgia’s bill is just the latest example of a bad social media policy proposal. As states like Utah, Texas, and Florida implement new social media laws designed to improve mental health, they misdiagnose the problem and risk data privacy.  

Trey Price is a policy analyst with the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit education and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit us at www.TheAmericanConsumer.Org or follow us on X @ConsumerPal.