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‘Killing our kids’: Cox blasts social media during monthly news conference

By Carlene Coombs - Daily Herald | Oct 20, 2023

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at the PBS Utah Governor's Monthly News Conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023.

Gov. Spencer Cox held his monthly press conference on Thursday, discussing regulations on social media companies and the platforms’ impact on children, the Israel-Palestine conflict and homelessness.

Social media

Cox got passionate on Thursday in talking about his fight to address social media companies and the platforms’ impact on children and mental health in Utah.

Last week, Cox and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes announced the state was investigating the social media app TikTok for violating Utah consumer protection laws.

During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers passed a series of regulations on how minors can use social media platforms, requiring age verification and limiting the data companies can collect from Utah users who are under 18.

During the press conference, Cox fielded questions on the logistics of Utah’s new law — which doesn’t go into effect until next year — as well as potential legal challenges against it.

“These social media companies are making billions of dollars off of killing our kids,” he said. “That’s why they’re making up all these arguments like, ‘Oh, this is impossible and the government’s trying to destroy it, and they’re trying to take away your First Amendment rights.’ They’re lying to you.”

Part of the state’s new laws requires social media platforms to verify the age of users, even adults.

Cox said this verification process will be done through a third party, not the social media app itself, and companies will not be allowed to keep the data on file after the verification is complete. How verification is done will be up to the platforms, but Cox expressed he personally isn’t comfortable with companies asking for government IDs to do that process.

The governor said there has been bipartisan support on the issue, with Congress members and even President Joe Biden engaging in discussion with him about making similar changes nationwide.

Cox added there will be future legal action taken against other social media companies but did not say which platforms.

Homelessness and housing

As winter approaches, Cox said he “feels better” about the winter shelter program in place this year than he has in the last 10 years.

Salt Lake County will have over 600 beds for winter shelters, more than there have been before, he said. When asked about support for people experiencing homelessness in Utah County, where there is no permanent shelter, said there have been conversations with providers in the county to address homelessness.

This winter, Utah County will provide temporary warming centers with beds each night for people experiencing homelessness, fulfilling new state legislation on providing shelter when temperatures drop below 15 degrees.

Service providers will be working with various churches in Utah Valley to provide warming centers on a rotating basis.

Utah County being without a shelter isn’t new, Cox said, and there have been ways for service providers in the valley to help people experiencing homelessness get to shelters in Salt Lake.

“So again, historically, if you’re in Utah County, you can get to Salt Lake County,” he said.

Cox pointed to rising housing costs as contributing to homelessness numbers, adding that it will be a collaborative effort from all cities and counties in the state to reduce housing prices.

The governor called on cities to increase the amount of housing available, saying there needs to be “some density in the right areas.”

“That’s the only way that our kids and grandkids are going to be able to live here,” he added.

Israel-Palestine conflict

When asked if Utah would be willing to take in Palestinian refugees, Cox said there would need to be an “extreme vetting” process but said he has not had any discussions with the federal government about taking in refugees from the conflict.

“I’m very hopeful that those neighboring countries, Egypt and others, will open their doors,” he said. “Obviously, we care deeply about refugees in this state. We have a history of taking care of refugees.”

Utah has accepted refugees from Afghanistan, with 900 refugees being settled between October 2021 and February 2022, according to the state. Utah has also been a place of refuge for Ukrainians since the Russia-Ukraine war began.

In a message to Palestinians in Utah, Cox said, “Our hearts break for you too,” adding he has no empathy for Hamas and they are “bad for Palestinians.”

“We want peace and we want Palestinians to feel at home in Utah,” he said. “And as I’ve said before, any efforts to harm or vandalize, to threaten our Jewish citizens, our Israelis that are here in Utah will be met with swift justice to the fullest extent of the law. I would say the exact same thing towards our Palestinians.”


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