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Iowa lawmakers consider banning Twitter, Instagram, other social media for minors

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Posted at 8:52 AM, Mar 31, 2023

A bill prohibiting people under age 18 from using or creating social media accounts advanced Thursday in the House.

Lawmakers discussed House File 526 in a Ways and Means subcommittee Thursday.

Rep. Phil Thompson, R-Boone, said the bill was “a little heavy-handed,” but he moved it forward with plans for amendment because of the data published on the impact of social media use on youth mental health.

“We’re seeing child depression increase,” Thompson said. “I think there’s a lot of strong correlations.”

Lobbyists for tech companies opposed the bill, saying they were concerned it could keep minors from using many other websites. For example, they said it could prevent minors from having an Amazon account which creates a profile to leave reviews, or prevent a teenager from making a LinkedIn account to search for a job.

Republican supporters said they plan to look at amending the bill to tighten what websites and online engagement would be restricted for minors. But House Speaker Pat Grassley said they plan to continue the conversation on restricting social media access for minors this session.

“The crux of that conversation is really about is data collection,” Grassley said. “But also … I think that’s part of this overall conversation when it comes to children’s mental health.”

Former Attorney General Tom Miller joined a group of at least 11 state attorneys general opening a probe into Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram. The group was investigating whether the business violated consumer protection laws and put the public at risk with the Instagram algorithms used to keep young people engaged.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst said there is a conversation to be had about children’s social media use, but Republicans’ approach was another example of taking away “parental choice.” Many young people use social media to communicate with friends and find a community, she said.

Konfrst said Republicans don’t want to have a nuanced argument about the role social media plays in young Iowans’ lives, “they just want to have one more place where the government steps in and tells parents what they can and can’t do.”

The legislation is not subject to the funnel deadline as a Ways and Means Committee bill.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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