Utah congressman discusses his bill to ban US teens under 16 from using social media
Jan 19, 2023, 7:00 PM
What is this about? Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, joins KSL NewsRadio’s Dave and Dujanovic with Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic to discuss his new bill that would make it illegal for social media platforms to provide access to children younger than 16.
Why the ban? “More than 40% of our young people aged 14 to 24 are diagnosed either with anxiety or depression,” Stewart said, adding almost one-third of this group have not only contemplated suicide but discussed how they would kill themselves with a friend or someone they know.
But how is this connected to social media? Stewart said this phenomenon started in 2012 when Facebook bought Instagram.
“They started marketing — not to adults, not to older teenagers — they started marketing to 9-, 10- 11-, 12- and 13-year-old girls. And then they started marketing shortly after that to 9-, 10-, 11-, 12- and 13-year-old boys. They knew this was addictive, and they knew that it would have a devastating social outcome,” Stewart said.
The average U.S. 13-year-old spends nine hours daily on social media; the average 8-year-old, 5 1/2 hours, the congressman said.
How Using Social Media Affects Teenagers
Experts say kids are growing up with more anxiety and less self-esteem.
How much of this is the responsibility of parents? Dave asked.
“I can tell you kids are light-years ahead of us when it comes to technology. They’re gonna find a workaround,” he said. ” . . . Let’s do a better job of educating kids, showing them how to use it [social media], showing them the dangers there are.”
“Technically, it’s illegal for anyone younger than 13 to be on social media, and no one enforces it, and there’s no effort at all to take it seriously,” Stewart replied. “Kids will try to get around it, just like kids are not supposed to drink, but they’ll find a way some of them to get access to alcohol. But that doesn’t mean we still shouldn’t do it.”
Social isolation of children
Stewart said he has had conversations with parents about barring their children from social media, but they fear that it may lead to social isolation from their peers.
“I’ve talked to so many young people who said, ‘I don’t want to be on social media, but I have to be because that’s where all my friends are.’ And we’d ask them, ‘What if you weren’t but none of your friends were, either. And so many of them have said, ‘That would be wonderful if it wasn’t just me,” Stewart said.
Checking teens’ age
“I feel like enforcement could be an absolute nightmare. So what are your thoughts on enforcement?” Debbie asked.
“You have to ask for a driver’s license,” Stewart said. “You have to ask for a copy of a birth certificate, Social Security number, something that indicates and proves what age they are. So that’s the key to this.”
Proving the age of teen users on social media will give states and, more importantly, parents legal standing, he said.
“[Social media companies] have to verify [a user’s] age and then there are legal repercussions to [the companies] if you don’t,” Stewart added.
“Have you already gotten pushback from social media platforms who are getting word that this could be happening?” Debbie asked.
Stewart said social media companies will oppose his bill, and they have both a lot of wealth and much influence in Washington, D.C.
“But here’s the good news. This is bipartisan. . . . There’s Democratic leaders who are actually maneuvering to be the lead co-sponsor on this. This is great news. . . Coincidentally, President Biden wrote an editorial for The Wall Street Journal last week proposing something like this and voicing concern over these very issues.
“So social media companies are going to oppose this, but families and parents, Republicans and Democrats, even the White House — we think we can come to an agreement on this,” Stewart said.
Utah mirrors Washington, D.C.
Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, is looking to enact a similar ban in Utah.
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