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Utah social media law means kids need approval from parents

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SALT LAKE CITY –

Children and teens in Utah would lose access to social media apps such as TikTok if they don’t have parental consent and face other restrictions under a first-in-the-nation law designed to shield young people from the addictive platforms.

Two laws signed by Republican Gov. Spencer Cox Thursday prohibit kids under 18 from using social media between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m., require age verification for anyone who wants to use social media in the state and open the door to lawsuits on behalf of children claiming social media harmed them. Collectively, they seek to prevent children from being lured to apps by addictive features and from having ads promoted to them.

The companies are expected to sue before the laws take effect in March 2024.

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The crusade against social media in Utah’s Republican-supermajority Legislature is the latest reflection of how politicians’ perceptions of technology companies has changed, including among typically pro-business Republicans.

Tech giants like Facebook and Google have enjoyed unbridled growth for over a decade, but amid concerns over user privacy, hate speech, misinformation and harmful effects on teens’ mental health, lawmakers have made Big Tech attacks a rallying cry on the campaign trail and begun trying to rein them in once in office. Utah’s law was signed on the same day TikTok’s CEO testified before Congress about, among other things, the platform’s effects on teenagers’ mental health.

But legislation has stalled on the federal level, pushing states to step in.

Outside of Utah, lawmakers in red states including Arkansas, Texas, Ohio and Louisiana and blue states including New Jersey are advancing similar proposals. California, meanwhile, enacted a law last year requiring tech companies to put kids’ safety first by barring them from profiling children or using personal information in ways that could harm children physically or mentally.

The new Utah laws also require that parents be given access to their child’s accounts. They outline rules for people who want to sue over harms they claim the apps cause. If implemented, lawsuits against social media companies involving kids under 16 will shift the burden of proof and require social media companies show their products weren’t harmful — not the other way around.

Social media companies could have to design new features to comply with parts of the laws that prohibit promoting ads to minors and showing them in search results. Tech companies like TikTok, Snapchat and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, make most of their money by targeting advertising to their users.

The wave of legislation and its focus on age verification has garnered pushback from technology companies as well as digital privacy groups known for blasting their data collection practices.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation earlier this month demanded Cox veto the Utah legislation, saying time limits and age verification would infringe on teens’ rights to free speech and privacy. Moreover, verifying every users’ age would empower social media platforms with more data, like the government-issued identification required, they said.

If the law is implemented, the digital privacy advocacy group said in a statement, “the majority of young Utahns will find themselves effectively locked out of much of the web.”

Tech industry lobbyists decried the laws as unconstitutional, saying they infringe on people’s right to exercise the First Amendment online.

“Utah will soon require online services to collect sensitive information about teens and families, not only to verify ages, but to verify parental relationships, like government-issued IDs and birth certificates, putting their private data at risk of breach,” said Nicole Saad Bembridge, an associate director at NetChoice, a tech lobby group.

What’s not clear in Utah’s new law and those under consideration elsewhere is how states plan to enforce the new regulations. Companies are already prohibited from collecting data on children under 13 without parental consent under the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. To comply, social media companies already ban kids under 13 from signing up to their platforms — but children have been shown to easily get around the bans, both with and without their parents’ consent.

Cox said studies have shown that time spent on social media leads to “poor mental health outcomes” for children.

“We remain very optimistic that we will be able to pass not just here in the state of Utah but across the country legislation that significantly changes the relationship of our children with these very destructive social media apps,” he said.

The set of laws won support from parents groups and child advocates, who generally welcomed them, with some caveats. Common Sense Media, a nonprofit focused on kids and technology, hailed the effort to rein in social media’s addictive features and set rules for litigation, with its CEO saying it “adds momentum for other states to hold social media companies accountable to ensure kids across the country are protected online.”

However, Jim Steyer, the CEO and founder of Common Sense, said giving parents access to children’s social media posts would “deprive kids of the online privacy protections we advocate for.” Age verification and parental consent may hamper kids who want to create accounts on certain platforms, but does little to stop companies from harvesting their data once they’re on, Steyer said.

The laws are the latest effort from Utah lawmakers focused on the fragility of children in the digital age. Two years ago, Cox signed legislation that called on tech companies to automatically block porn on cellphones and tablets sold in the state, after arguments about the dangers it posed to children found resonance among Utah lawmakers, the majority of whom are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Amid concerns about enforcement, lawmakers ultimately revised that legislation to prevent it from taking effect unless five other states passed similar laws.

The regulations come as parents and lawmakers are growing increasingly concerned about kids and teenagers’ social media use and how platforms like TikTok, Instagram and others are affecting young people’s mental health. The dangers of social media to children is also emerging as a focus for trial lawyers, with addiction lawsuits being filed thorughout the country.

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Ortutay reported from Oakland, California.

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Vatican singles out bishops in urging reflective not reactive social media use

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican on Monday urged the Catholic faithful, and especially bishops, to be “reflective, not reactive” on social media, issuing guidelines to try to tame the toxicity on Catholic Twitter and other social media platforms and encourage users to instead be “loving neighbors.”

The Vatican’s communications office issued a “pastoral reflection” to respond to questions it has fielded for years about a more responsible, Christian use of social media and the risks online that accompany the rise of fake news and artificial intelligence.

For decades the Holy See has offered such thoughts on different aspects of communications technologies, welcoming the chances for encounter they offer but warning of the pitfalls. Pope Francis of late has warned repeatedly about the risk of young people being so attached to their cell phones that they stop face-to-face friendships.

The new document highlights the divisions that can be sown on social media, and the risk of users remaining in their “silos” of like-minded thinkers and rejecting those who hold different opinions. Such tendencies can result in exchanges that “can cause misunderstanding, exacerbate division, incite conflict, and deepen prejudices,” the document said.

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It warned that such problematic exchanges are particularly worrisome “when it comes from church leadership: bishops, pastors, and prominent lay leaders. These not only cause division in the community but also give permission and legitimacy for others likewise to promote similar type of communication,” the message said.

The message could be directed at the English-speaking Catholic Twittersphere, where some prominent Catholic figures, including bishops, frequently engage in heated debates or polemical arguments that criticize Francis and his teachings.

The prefect of the communications office, Paolo Ruffini, said it wasn’t for him to rein in divisive bishops and it was up to their own discernment. But he said the general message is one of not feeding the trolls or taking on “behavior that divides rather than unites.”

 

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Russia says U.S. Senator should say if Ukraine took his words out of context

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MOSCOW, May 29 (Reuters) – Russia on Monday said U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham should say publicly if he believes his words were taken out of context by a Ukrainian state video edit of his comments about the war that provoked widespread condemnation in Moscow.

In an edited video released by the Ukrainian president’s office of Graham’s meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Friday, Graham was shown saying “the Russians are dying” and then saying U.S. support was the “best money we’ve ever spent”.

After Russia criticised the remarks, Ukraine released a full video of the meeting on Sunday which showed the two remarks were not directly linked.

Russia’s foreign ministry said Western media had sought to shield the senator from criticism and said that Graham should publicly state if he feels his words were taken out of context by the initial Ukrainian video edit.

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“If U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham considers his words were taken out of context by the Ukrainian regime and he doesn’t actually think in the way presented then he can make a statement on video with his phone,” Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a video posted on Telegram.

“Only then will we know: does he think the way that was said or was it a performance by the Kyiv regime?”

Graham’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The initial video of Graham’s remarks triggered criticism from across Moscow, including from the Kremlin, Putin’s powerful Security Council and from the foreign ministry.

Graham said he had simply praised the spirit of Ukrainians in resisting a Russian invasion with assistance provided by Washington.

Graham said he had mentioned to Zelenskiy “that Ukraine has adopted the American mantra, ‘Live Free or Die.’ It has been a good investment by the United States to help liberate Ukraine from Russian war criminals.”

Russia’s interior ministry has put Graham on a wanted list after the Investigative Committee said it was opening a criminal probe into his comments. It did not specify what crime he was suspected of.

In response, Graham said: “I will wear the arrest warrant issued by Putin’s corrupt and immoral government as a Badge of Honor.

“…I will continue to stand with and for Ukraine’s freedom until every Russian soldier is expelled from Ukrainian territory.”

A South Carolina Republican known for his hawkish foreign policy views, Graham has been an outspoken champion of increased military support for Ukraine in its battle against Russia.

Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Nick Macfie

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

 

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Jamie Sarkonak: Liberals bring identity quotas to Canada Media Fund

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In 2021, the Liberals said they would dramatically boost funding for the Canada Media Fund. And they did — but that funding came with diversity quotas and a new emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

It’s another bald-faced example of the Liberals infusing identity into public (or publicly-funded-but-government-adjacent) media programs to craft Canada in their image. Now, the program is beholden to diversity-based budgeting (with diversity “targets” in its largest funding branch), an identity tracking system for content producers and a “narrative positioning” policy that guides how stories about certain groups are told.

The Canada Media Fund is supposed to oversee a funding pool that supports the creation of Canadian media projects in the areas of drama, kids’ programming, documentaries and even video games. According to its most recent annual report, about half its revenue ($184 million) comes from the federal government through the Department of Canadian Heritage (another near-half comes from broadcasting companies through the country’s broadcasting regulator, the CRTC). The department also has the power to appoint two of the fund’s board members.

It’s a lot of money, but there’s a good rationale for domestic media production behind it. Canadian producers might not be able to secure funding for homegrown projects without it, which would make Canadians even more dependent on the U.S. for entertainment than we are already.

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The Canada Media Fund is doing a lot more than broadly funding content creation, though. With more federal funding brought in after the past election, it is now responsible for greenlighting projects to meet identity quotas set out by the Liberals.

According to the Canada Media Fund’s contract with Canadian Heritage, which has been obtained by the National Post through a previously-completed access to information request, the number of projects funded with government-sourced dollars and led by “people of equity-deserving groups” will have to amount to 45 by 2024. The number of “realized projects” for people of these groups must amount to 25 by 2024. Finally, by 2024, a quarter of funded “key creative positions” must be held by people from designated diversity groups.

These funding quotas are similar to the CBC’s new diversity requirements for budgeting. When the CBC’s broadcasting licence was renewed by the CRTC last year, it was required to dedicate 30 per cent of its independent content production budget to diverse groups, which will rise to 35 per cent in 2026. While the CRTC is arm’s-length from government, a Liberal-appointed CRTC commissioner appeared eager to impose quotas that were on par with the governing party’s agenda on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

The government’s agreement with the Canada Media Fund also sets aside $20 million of the new money explicitly for people considered diverse enough to check a box — anyone from “sovereignty-seeking” and “equity-seeking” groups.

“’Sovereignty- and Equity-Seeking Community’ refers to the individuals who identify as women, First Nations, Métis, Inuit, Racialized, 2SLGBTQ+, Persons with disabilities/Disabled Persons, Regional, and Official Language Minority Community,” reads the Canada Media Fund’s explainer on who gets diversity status.

For the most part, everyone other than straight, white, non-disabled men get special treatment by the fund.

Aside from getting mandatory coverage through the use of quotas, the groups listed above are shielded with “narrative positioning” policies that took effect this year. If the main character, key storyline, or subject matter has anything to do with the above groups, creators must either be from that group or take “comprehensive measures that have and will be undertaken to create the content responsibly, thoughtfully and without harm.” These can include consultations, sharing of ownership rights, and hiring policies from the community. While narrative requirements weren’t mandated by the Liberals in their grant to the fund, they complement the overall DEI strategy.

Storytellers vying for certain grants have to sign an attestation form agreeing with the narrative policy and write a compliance plan if their works have anything to do with the above groups. Plainly, it’s a force of narrative control.

This doesn’t go both ways; women can make documentaries about men consult-free, non-white people can make TV dramas about white people consult-free, and so on.

Statistically, diversity is being tracked on a internal system that logs the identities of key staff and leadership on every Canada Media Fund project. The diversity repository was rolled out this year. Internal documents indicate these stats will be used to monitor program progress and adjust policy going forward.

These changes are all directly linked to a Liberal platform point on media modernization. In the 2021 Liberal platform, the party committed to doubling the government’s contribution to the fund. Since then, the Liberal platform has been cited directly in internal documents outlining the Canada Media Fund’s three-year growth strategy (which explains how the new money will be used, in part, to ramp up DEI efforts).

Together, it looks like both the fund, and the party responsible for doubling its taxpayer support are more concerned about the identities of filmmakers and TV producers than the actual media being produced.

Creators should be able to tell stories about others without the narrative department’s oversight — the more narrative control, the more it starts to sound like propaganda. Good creators wanting to tell an authentic story should conduct research and be respectful of the people they cover — but they shouldn’t be bound to consultations and ownership agreements.

National Post

 

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