State Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Texas) plans to introduce legislation in 2023 that will ban minors from using social media.
Patterson told The Epoch Times that the bill aims to protect children’s mental health. The idea for the new bill came after talking to school officials in the aftermath of the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting.
School safety was paramount, but Patterson said social media’s impact on children was also a concern.
“I’m a big believer in parental rights, but I think parents don’t stand a chance against these self-learning, artificial intelligence algorithms—these teams of engineers and even child psychologists that these social media companies are hiring,” he said.
Patterson posted on Twitter earlier this month about his plan to introduce legislation banning social media companies from allowing users under 18 to use their platforms.
His post was in response to an article shared by the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The conservative group advocated banning minors from social media based on a story of a young girl barraged with videos of body image, eating disorders, and self-harm.
Users on Twitter were quick to denounce the idea, with some saying that guns need to be banned instead of social media. Others said that children have a right to free speech and that social media use should be a parental decision, not a governmental one.
Patterson said that parents are up against a giant industry that pushes addictive content. There’s been an uptick in suicides and self-harm from 2007 to 2017, corresponding to an explosion in social media use. Before 2007, suicide rates were decreasing.
He said that cyberbullying and school shooters have been linked to social media but emphasized that the bill would not be a cure-all for mental health issues.
“Look, I’m not saying if we ban social media providers that we will have no more mass shootings. What I am saying is this is absolutely a piece of it.”
Children can’t legally buy guns, tobacco, or alcohol, he said, adding that society safeguards children physically far better than it does mentally.
Patterson sees social media as being similar to cigarettes in the 1960s. He compared it to minors smoking before the Surgeon General warned the public about its dangers. Patterson believes something similar will happen to social media in future years.
“They are built to hook you in longer, just like a drug,” he said.
Patterson said the idea has received mixed reviews from other lawmakers, saying a ban might be a tough sell. Another approach would be banning media companies from using algorithms on those under 18 years old.
Social media companies such as TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter have been invited to an Aug. 8 meeting on the topic.
Patterson said he isn’t looking to lock up children or parents. Social media companies would be penalized for allowing minors to use their sites under the bill.
“I think there’s broad bipartisan support,” he said. “I think there’s going to be broad bipartisan opposition.”