Montana Bans TikTok, Social Curfews for Minors, and Federal COPPA Blocks — Oh My!

Erin Strong | May 30, 2023

Montana bans TikTok. Utah implements a social curfew for minors. And Federal COPPA blocks are here.

In case you missed it: That’s just the regulation we’ve seen around social media in the past few weeks.

If you feel like surfer this year with the endless onslaught of state and federal regulators making waves and changing the landscape of social media marketing, you’re not alone.

Here’s a round-up of the most recurrent concerns marketers are voicing in reaction to these changes, how you can keep marketing and stay compliant, and our predictions around marketing efficacy going forward.

Plus — to get a minor’s perspective on all of these changes, I interviewed a 15-year-old (my boyfriend’s son) to get his perspective. It was enlightening and insightful to get his thoughts on how his generation is reacting to these changes.

Montana Bans TikTok

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: On Wednesday, May 17th Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed a bill to ban TikTok and then (somewhat ironically) tweeted that it’s, “to protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party.” His move and subsequent tweet on a platform China could easily scrape for data feels similar to Meghan Markle asking for her privacy and then starring in a Netflix documentary, but we digress. The bill — SB419 — passed through Montana’s House of Reps with a 54-43 vote.

OUTCOMES: TikTok lovers (aka half of American households), marketers, and brands are watching closely to see if other states jump on the BAN-wagon. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also jumped into the scuffle claiming it’s a violation of free speech.

If you’re trying to decide whether or not to test the waters on TikTok, our advice is to dive in (unless you live in Montana). The controversy has led to incredible growth and attention for the platform, yielding higher-than-ever ROAS for brave brands. While it might be short-lived, that’s not a reason to forgo the opportunity and miss out on share-of-voice to your competitors.

As for TikTok’s response, we’re all still waiting with bated breath for Shou Chew, TikTok’s CEO, to start another native marketing campaign in his skateboarder getup to convince us that this is “super uncool” of the US Congress. If you missed his last video, it’s worth watching if you can handle his tone.

The bill states that entities, including the app store or TikTok, will be fined $10,000 per day every time a user “is offered the ability” to access or download the app. This means Apple and Google, which operate app stores on Apple and Android devices, are liable for violations. As of now, users themselves will not be penalized, but how a statewide TikTok ban will be enforced is currently unclear.

IMPACTS TO REPORTING: If your brand is already on TikTok, it’s easy enough to filter out results for Montana to determine your national norms, and then to compare Montana’s results to get perspective on sneaky circumventers. However, we recommend simply excluding the state to avoid the risk of marketing in a state that should be offline.

FEEDBACK FROM A 15-YO: There’s no way to successfully enforce it, according to my tech-savvy buddy, because minors know how to VPN in and download apps from other states. He also said a lot of things that made me think the safest way to block teen access to social media is to hide computer and phone chargers.

Utah’s Minor Curfew for Social Media

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Utah Governor Spencer Cox signed two bills indicating that minors under the age of 18 in Utah will be barred from accessing social media sites from 10:30pm-6:30am starting in March 2024. The legislation also seeks to block social platforms from using “addictive” features for underage users and (pearl clutch) advertising. Minors will also require parental consent to create accounts on the social media platforms, and parents will have access to review and monitor usage. Following the trend, Arkansas became the second state to require parental approval for minors to open social media accounts.

OUTCOMES: It’s still difficult to gauge the impact and outcomes of this legislation because the methodology for enforcing it remains unclear. Marketers could utilize dayparting to ensure ads are only sent during acceptable timeframes if marketing to minors is part of your strategy. However, the ban on “addictive” advertising will need to be outlined more clearly to ensure your ad sets are compliant. Fines and stipulations are still unclear but based on trends — they’ll be hefty.

IMPACTS TO REPORTING: If ads are set up for compliance, reporting should be easy for marketers after the social media curfew takes hold. Regular peaks and valleys will appear on reports for ads targeting minors.

FEEDBACK FROM A 15 YO: He shared with me that his Utah-issued school laptop isn’t capable of banning social media sites like it’s meant to, so he doesn’t have faith that the ban will do any better in the wild across unregulated devices. He shared details that again made me think we should hide kids’ chargers if we want to limit screen time, and then he had a great idea!

If Utah wants to do this effectively, they should offer prizes to kids who report workarounds to access social media during the restricted hours. While kids can certainly outsmart most adults to get online, they’re also willing to sell the access information for $20 gift cards to fast food restaurants. Legislators, take note!

COPPA and Protecting Kids on Social Media

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) has been around since 1999 but has not been widely enforced since it was enacted. Essentially, it was meant to regulate content directed at children under 13 as well as the collection of data from those children. The “new” aspect of this is S.1291 — Protecting Kids on Social Media Act — which would take the COPPA act and enforce age verification of users, prohibit children under 13 from accessing social media, prohibit and prevent algorithmic recommendations for minors, and require guardian consent for social media usage under 18.

OUTCOMES: Marketers and brands that rely on targeting minors might be quaking in their loafers, because S.1291 will essentially render targeting ineffective for minors. As those of us who set up targeting know, there’s always a workaround to target the group you want to reach, so this legislation may just lead to more loopholes.

Another consideration for regulators is the definition of social media. Will sites like YouTube be included? In Arkansas, their social media restrictions exempt brands that have earned less than $100M, opening the door for emerging brands to reach kids with unfettered access. However the legislation defines social media platforms, regulators will have to be nimble to update the definition as emerging tech like AR, VR, the Metaverse, and AI-based apps provide children with similar outcomes to social media access.

Despite the best efforts of legislators across the US, it’s worth acknowledging to parents that their children can find concerning content on a variety of platforms that are not defined as social media, so all access should still be complemented by parental supervision and discretion (or as previously suggested, hiding devices and power cords).

IMPACTS ON REPORTING: If the Protecting Kids Act is enforced effectively, reporting would not exist for children under 13 from major social platforms. Additionally, drastic declines in consumption from the 13-17 age group would impact teen-targeting brands on social media platforms, so these dollars and analytics would likely migrate to unscathed platforms, like PPC or YouTube (if YouTube manages to be excluded from consideration as a social media platform).

It’s worth noting too that as kids simply change their ages in platforms, reporting for 18+ groups could become distorted and skewed by the intermingling of kids consuming content under the guise of being adults. A careful watch on YOY trends is recommended.

FEEDBACK FROM A 15 YO: He thinks it’s a good thing and necessary to protect kids — which surprised me.

What Marketers Should Do Next

Related legislation, such as S.410, a Federal Social Media Research Act, the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, and the Kids’ Online Safety Act (KOSA), are underway to assess the impacts of social media on minors and determine future regulations and restrictions.

At BrandMuscle, our organic and paid social media teams continually review capabilities, tactical changes, regulatory changes, and the impact to our clients’ marketing strategies to leverage market changes as advantages for our clients. While these disrupting considerations for social media marketing may impact clients targeting minors, they are being continually analyzed and our clients get cutting-edge advice on how to move forward and stay in compliance.

Whether you’re dealing with impacts of the Montana Tiktok ban, Utah’s social curfew, or other social media regulation — BrandMuscle has your back.

Interested in improving your social media marketing strategy? Reach out to BrandMuscle to talk to one of our subject matter experts about your brand’s needs.

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