As increasing social media use continues to fuel a mental health crisis among teens, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is pushing for age restrictions to access the platforms.
The measure — the MATURE Act — proposed by Hawley would block social media companies from allowing people younger than 16 years old from establishing accounts. The full title of the legislation is, “Making Age-Verification Technology Uniform, Robust, and Effective Act.”
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If enacted, the bill would give parents whose children were able to successfully create social media accounts before 16 years old the opportunity to take civil action against the platforms in question.
Hawley has also proposed authorization for a federal study on the impact social media use is having on people younger than 18 years old.
“Children suffer every day from the effects of social media,” he said in a press release. “At best, Big Tech companies are neglecting our children’s health and monetizing their personal information. At worst, they are complicit in their exploitation and manipulation. It’s time to give parents the weapons they need to strike back.”
The lawmaker went on to say, “We must set the precedent that these companies can no longer take advantage of our children.”
During an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Hawley argued parents should have “more control” over the access their children have to the internet, specifically as it pertains to social media use.
“Put [parents] back in the driver’s seat,” he said. “I’ve got three kids. You know, parents all over the country would love to know that these companies cannot target their children, cannot let them open accounts until they’re 16 years of age. Let’s protect our kids when they’re at their most vulnerable.”
Hawley’s proposed legislation comes about a month after Seattle Public Schools filed a lawsuit against TikTok, Meta (Facebook and Instagram’s parent company), Snap, and others, arguing the platforms have significantly contributed to the mental health crisis plaguing young Americans.
In September 2021, Meta released a study acknowledging just how harmful Instagram can be, particularly to teen girls’ self-esteem. After compiling data for three years, researchers found 32% of teenage girls who “felt bad about their bodies” said the problem was worsened by Instagram use.
“Teens told us that they don’t like the amount of time they spend on the app, but feel like they have to be present,” explained one Instagram research manager. “They often feel ‘addicted’ and know that what they’re seeing is bad for their mental health but feel unable to stop themselves.”
You can read more about that study’s findings here.
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