Most social media networks currently require users to be at least 13 years old. However, they are not legally required to perform an age verification procedure, so in reality, children younger than 13 are not prevented from opening an account and using services such as TikTok and Meta’s Instagram and Facebook. Some features are blocked for minors, such as watching potentially inappropriate videos on TikTok – but adolescents can still spend an unlimited amount of time on the apps.
Now, Texas State Representative Jared Patterson has proposed to force social media companies to verify a user’s age with a photo ID and deny registration to minors. Additionally, if his bill, HB 896, were passed, parents would receive the right to formally request that their children’s accounts be deleted from services like Facebook within 10 days.
State Rep. Jared Patterson has compared the changing social outlook on social media to the history of the perceptions of smoking cigarettes.“Social media is the pre-1964 cigarette. Once thought to be perfectly safe for users, social media access to minors has led to remarkable rises in self-harm, suicide, and mental health issues. The Texas legislature must act this session to protect children because, thus far, the social media platforms have failed to do so. HB 896 is a solution to this crisis,” he has been quoted saying.
Some may see Patterson’s stance as extreme, but his proposal has gained the support of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The organization’s CEO Greg Sindelar gave the following comment on Patterson’s proposal:
“The harms social media poses to minors are demonstrable not just in the internal research from the very social media companies that create these addictive products, but in the skyrocketing depression, anxiety, and even suicide rates we are seeing afflict children,” he said. “We are tremendously grateful for Rep. Jared Patterson’s leadership on keeping this precious population safe, and TPPF is fully supportive of prohibiting social media access to minors to prevent the perpetual harms of social media from devastating the next generation of Texans.”
If HB 896 passes in Texas, it could cause a domino effect with other US states and perhaps also other countries introducing similar measures. Psychometrica will be observing how the situation evolves. The existence of a social media ban for minors in a specific area would provide invaluable data for comparing children’s outcomes depending on the accessibility of social media services.