House committee on youth health hears testimony on bill addressing social media’s harm on minors


Boram Kim


The Texas House Select Committee on Youth Health and Safety heard testimony on House Bill 18 on Monday, a measure that would restrict digital service providers from collecting and utilizing the personal identifying information of minors. Committee members placed the bill as “pending” in committee. 


Stay one step ahead. Join our email list for the latest news.



The bill would require social media platforms to obtain parental consent before collecting and utilizing data on minors. It also would require transparency around how companies implement technology and practices around youth engagement, including processes like age verification, facial recognition, and marketing algorithms. 

Rep. Shelby Slawson (R – Stephenville), the bill’s sponsor, explained how children have increasingly turned to digital devices, applications, and networks for their social lives and interactions, but said the online space presents a dangerous and dark environment for children. 

“The truth is that the experience for kids in our state has resulted in increased rates of self-harm, suicide, substance abuse, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and other mental health issues,” Slawson said. “And what’s worse is that platforms have visibility into these darker elements through the vast amounts of data they collect and process, while parents are often occluded from their children’s online experiences and powerless to intervene.”

According to Slawson, companies are putting financial interests over the well-being of youth by creating addictive features aimed at increasing screen time. She said the bill aims to reestablish the scope of parental control through three primary objectives. 

The first would be to give parents the authority to consent to the platforms their children interact with and the ability to know what data is collected along with the right to obtain and delete it. Second, the bill would redress the financial incentives platforms have to collect data on and target children for advertisements by requiring transparency on how the data is used. Lastly, the bill aims to curb the abuses of sophisticated and addictive algorithms, giving parents the choice of opting out of having algorithms target their kids. 

Officials from social media company Meta testified in opposition to the bill, saying platforms like Facebook and Instagram have parental supervision tools built in that enable parents to see their children’s online connections and set limits for time spent on the platforms.

“We require people to enter their age when they use our platform,” said Meta’s Vice President of Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis. “We use innovative technology like AI to identify those who are misrepresenting their age. We also allow people to report underage accounts and we [and] our viewers will flag accounts that are underage. If we see that someone is underage, we will give them an opportunity to identify their age, and if they cannot accurately show us their age, we will remove those accounts. In addition to that, we’ve built over 30 tools to help young people remain safe and have positive experiences on our platform …

We do not allow unconnected adults [to message] minors directly. We prohibit content that promotes suicide and self-harm or eating disorders. And we use AI to actually find 98.6% of that content before it’s reported to us. We prohibit certain kinds of ads for people under the age of 18. And I don’t just mean illegal things like alcohol or tobacco, but financial products [and] weight loss ads.”

Local advocates for the bill, including parents, teenagers, school counselors, and representatives from the Texas Medical Association (TMA) and Texas Public Policy Foundation, outlined the litany of harms these companies knowingly expose to young people. 

Brian Dixon, MD, a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist representing TMA, said that even for parents with the best intentions, monitoring what their children are exposed to online has become increasingly difficult. 

“The frontal lobe is the part of your brain that tells you to stop doing things,” Dixon said. “When you are a young teenager, especially a young teenage boy, that part of your brain is not extremely well-developed. And so depending on what messages you’re hearing, you’re gonna start to see things that may not be the best and so that’s one of the reasons why for a lot of young boys, we say, ‘Hey, you know, you are who you hang around.’ Well, if you’re getting these messages of somebody saying certain things—that’s very problematic.”

Proponents for HB 18 said social media companies are creating online relationships for teens that are damaging to mental health and exposing them to sexually explicit content and cyberbullying. This is contributing to an increase in eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and delinquent behavior among Texas teens. 

“I’m also reminded of another quote out there about this mantra of social media and the tech industry that says, ‘Move fast and break things,’” Slawson said. “While it was not their intent, [social media companies] have broken something. They have broken the mental well-being of our children and instances, the hearts of entire families and we are calling on them to move fast and fix it.”