SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — In the wake of the blackout challenge on TikTok and the State of Utah’s notice of intent to sue social media companies, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) has introduced a bill to keep children off social media. 

“We have never had a generation of such anxious, depressed, or vulnerable children. You can look and pinpoint the moment this began to change.” Stewart said. “It was actually in 2012 when Facebook bought Instagram, and they started advertising and marketing to 9, 10, 11, and 12-year-old girls, and then the same age group of young men.”

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, Facebook has known about the negative impacts of Instagram on some teens for years. The report stated that 32 percent of teen girls felt worse about their bodies because of Instagram. The negative impacts Instagram and other social media can bring on teens are echoed by many people. 

“There isn’t a single teen girl who ‘needs’ social media, especially Instagram,” said Leah Kunz, mother of a teen girl on Facebook.  “It may not harm every single kid that uses it (although, I believe it does in ways we are only beginning to understand) but there are ZERO pros to young people having it.”

Evidence from a variety of studies implicated social media use in the increase of “mental distress, self-injurious behavior, and suicidality among youth.” The Canadian Medical Journal said social media and kids represent a dose–response relationship, and the effects appear to be greatest among girls.

The CMJ conducted a review on this topic and found that the number of youth and children who went to the hospital because of suicide ideation or attempts doubled between 2008 and 2015 in the U.S. The self-poisoning rates among 10 to 18-year-olds reportedly increased significantly between 2011 and 2018, primarily among girls.

“Social media platforms included normalization of self-harm behavior,” the CMJ said, “[and] discussions about practical issues regarding suicidality and live depictions of self-harm acts.”

According to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there was a 120% increase from 2012 to 2022 in the percentage of youth reporting a major depressive episode.

At the same time, according to We Are Social, there was a 310% increase in social media users from 2012-2022, and the number of users now accounts for 58.4 percent of the world’s total population. 

That’s not to say that social media can only bring mental health issues to teens’ lives.

“At the same time, there were also positive elements,” the CMJ said, “including providing a sense of community, suggestions for seeking treatment, and advice on stopping self-harm behavior.”

The Journal of Technology of Behavioral Science did a review of 46 studies and stated that social media has become an important part of the lives of many people who have mental disorders. Many people use social media to share experiences of their mental illnesses, seek support from others, and search for information about treatment recommendations, or coping skills.

However, the JTBS also stated that they were unsure if the benefits could outweigh the harms.

“It is clear from the studies summarized here that social media use can have negative effects on mental health symptoms, can potentially expose individuals to hurtful content and hostile interactions, and can result in serious consequences for daily life, including threats to employment and personal relationships,” the JTBS said.

Stewart’s bill would ban children under 16 from social media platforms and would allow for social media companies to be sued.