Texas State Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) announced he would file a bill to raise the age limit for using social media to 18 during the next legislative session.
Patterson tweeted Tuesday, “It’s long past time to recognize the incredible harm social media is doing to the mental health of young Texans. Next session, we put an end to it.”
I agree, and I'll be introducing legislation next session to ban minors from using social media.
It's long past time to recognize the incredible harm social media is doing to the mental health of young Texans. Next session, we put an end to it.
— Rep. Jared Patterson (@JaredLPatterson) July 5, 2022
“I’ll be introducing legislation next session to ban minors from using social media.”
Patterson’s announcement was in response to a post by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) calling for a ban on minors’ ability to use social media. Texas statute defines a minor as any individual below 18 years of age.
“Texas should be the national leader on the issue of child online safety by taking the bold step of banning social media use by minors,” wrote Zach Whiting, a senior fellow with TPPF.
“States place age restrictions on numerous behaviors, such as driving, voting, smoking, drinking, and entering into a valid contract, among other things,” Whiting continued. “This proposal would recognize social media as a prohibited harm to minors.”
“It is clear our consumer protection laws need to be enhanced to better protect minors online, hold accountable the companies that fail to do so, and punish those who harm or attempt to harm minors online,” Whiting added.
Several Twitter users pushed back against Patterson’s proposal.
“Isn’t this what parents are supposed to do?” radio host Dana Loesch asked in response to Patterson’s post.
“Social media absolutely has its drawbacks but it can also help teens develop better social skills, bond with friends/family, and learn about new sociocultural ideas,” wrote author and software developer Gabrielle Alexa Noel.
“I can’t help but think they’re trying to crush student activism,” Noel continued. “Like the thousands of Texas students advocating for stricter gun control through walk-outs & using social media to share toolkits for others to organize.”
“I actually disagree with [this] completely,” wrote user Katie French. “I want less government in my home. I certainly don’t need a government to parent for me.”
The government does prohibit social media companies from allowing children under 13 on their platforms under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998.
COPPA was intended to prevent platforms from collecting the personal data of kids under 13 for ad targeting or tracking.
In Europe, most social media platforms have a minimum age of 16 in compliance with the stricter and much more recent European Union law, the General Data Protection Regulation Act of 2018.
Experts say U.S. lawmakers could update COPPA to better keep up with modern times, even if it is not a foolproof method to keep minors safe online.
“We’re dealing with such a substantially different internet experience now, compared to in the 1990s when we had very primitive types of advertising,” Jennifer King, privacy and data fellow at Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, told Business Insider.
The age limit of 13 is both “problematic” and “arbitrary,” King added.
Even though most platforms ask users to confirm they are over 13, underage users can get around the question by lying.
In 2018, CNN Health reported that the average age of children who sign up for social media is 12.6 years old.
Moreover, users may be getting younger. In 2021, Cleveland Health reported that 50% of children between the ages of 10 and 12 use social media.
In 2011, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg publicly stated that he wanted to remove age limits entirely from his platform.
A Facebook spokesman said at the time, “[R]ecent reports have highlighted just how difficult it is to implement age restrictions on the internet and that there is no single solution to ensuring younger children don’t circumvent a system or lie about their age.”
Meta, Facebook’s parent company, is currently facing a lawsuit from a family alleging Instagram caused their daughter’s eating disorder. Instagram also recently announced tighter restrictions to access its platform, including using artificial intelligence to “guess” the age of someone in a submitted photo.
Rep. Patterson says social media negatively affects behavioral and mental health, and thus a law banning minors from using the platform is necessary.
“Over the years, Texas has taken steps to improve the physical health and safety of young people,” Patterson told The Texan. “Examples include precluding them from purchasing firearms, alcohol, and tobacco, or requiring car seats, booster seats and even seat belts.”
“It’s past time we treat mental health as seriously as physical health. From the conversations I’ve had with school officials in recent weeks, I’ve come to better understand the mental health threat social media imposes on our youth. I look forward to having the open conversation with my constituents and my colleagues next session about raising the minimum age for social media from 13 years old to 18 years old.”