Utah set to sue social media companies to 'protect our kids'

Posted at 8:51 AM, Jan 23, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — The state of Utah is threatening a lawsuit against social media companies for a number of "harms" they have done to children.

At a news conference on Monday, Governor Spencer Cox announced pending litigation. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes did not go so far, but announced that they would seek outside counsel to shepherd likely litigation.

“Without strong action on our part, social media companies will simply not make the changes necessary to protect our children," said Gov. Cox.

The governor said social media is negatively impacting teens by distracting them, disrupting their sleep and exposing them to harmful rumors, behavior, unrealistic views of others' lives and peer pressure. It results in anxiety, depression and self-harm, he said.

“We know that teens, and adults, for that matter, feel lonelier than ever before in large part because social media is taking us away from in-person social connections," said Gov. Cox.

The social media companies know about the consequences their platforms and algorithms are having and "still they do nothing," the governor added.

Watch full briefing on social media lawsuits below

Cox-Reyes Social Media briefing

Attorney General Reyes said the social media companies were being put "on notice" and his office would seek outside counsel to handle the litigation, in part because of a shortage of staff in the state's top legal office.

"The negative aspects of social media are an existential threat to our youth," he said. "We are on the other side of a social media Rubicon — a point of no return unless we take serious action."

In response to questions from FOX 13 News, Gov. Cox and Attorney General Reyes would not say which companies they were targeting in their pending litigation. Nor would the attorney general say what claims were being brought.

"We're investigating a number of social media and technology companies," Reyes said, confirming an investigation "for some time."

He declined to say for what.

In the Gold Room at the Utah State Capitol were lawmakers who are running bills cracking down on social media. So were lobbyists representing some social media companies. So far, those companies have not yet responded to requests for comment on any threats of litigation or pending legislative bills.

Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-West Jordan, said bills include age verification, data privacy of teens and a cell phone ban in classrooms.

"I appreciate the governor using all the tools at our discretion to be able to solve this problem," he told FOX 13 News.

Rep. Teuscher said he was negotiating with social media companies on his bills and "generally they are open to find solutions."

"The problem is they're just not working fast enough," he said.

Attorney General Reyes, who was a litigator in the tech sector, said he does not feel all social media is bad.

“Social media is not itself inherently good or evil, but the overuse and abuse of social media, the manipulation of it, the unrealistic expectations fostered by it have become so damaging to our kids that I believe, and I think it’s clear the governor does to, the negative aspects of social media are an existential threat to our youth," said Reyes.

Gov. Cox compared those who operate social media platforms to the companies that produce and manufacture opioids and tobacco, saying they let profits outweigh the dangers of their products.

“What they knew, when they knew it and what they continue to do, somebody needs to be held accountable to that. And until we start holding them accountable, they’re not going to change. They’re making far too much money off of it," he said.