Texas Rep. Jared Patterson (R) announced his intention to use the state’s next legislative session to try and ban social media access for anyone under 18, declaring it to be a source of “incredible harm” to the young people of his state.
His announcement comes in the wake of conservative think tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation publishing a paper calling for such a ban.
In their paper, the group offers examples of individual teenagers who were harmed as a result of their social media use, and cite an unnamed study with a broken link that allegedly calls social media use a “behavioral addiction” with a laundry list of harms.
There are known harms of social media. Meta, itself, studied the effects of Instagram on teenage girls. The Wall Street Journal reported that it found between 14-25% of teenage girls felt worse about themselves after using the app. However, it also found that 30-50% actually felt better as a result of using it.
Whether the results of Meta’s own internal analysis are accurate is up for debate.
Regardless, social media use by teenagers is a popular target for conservatives who blame it for everything. In Texas Public Policy Foundation’s paper, it blamed social media use for everything from the Uvalde shooting to the increase of teenagers seeking mental healthcare. Patterson himself, talking to the Texan and then later tweeting some of his statement, said;
“Over the years, Texas has taken steps to improve the physical health and safety of young people. 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.”
Some have accused Patterson and the other conservatives who support similar policies of wanting to control teenagers access to information outside of a public school setting.
With critical race theory opponents attempting to limit how history and race can be discussed and talked about in classrooms, and plans for a bill similar to Florida’s “don’t say gay” law underway for the next legislature session, some critics see this proposed bill as an attempt to ensure Texas’ children can’t learn about these things from other sources. That feels especially true when statements like “Social media drive political and cultural and educational conversations to such a degree that a collective solution to the problem they pose for children is long overdue” are found in the sources drawn on by the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
The suspicion that this is partly motivated by a desire to repress the rise of student activism among high schoolers has also been floated.
But there’s also been dissent from members of the Republican base, with popular commentator Dana Loesch saying parents, not the government, are supposed to monitor their kids’ social media use.
Patterson’s bill may seem far-fetched and unlikely to pass, but given the recent stances by Texas on both abortion and sodomy, it’s not impossible it might succeed.