August 10, 2022

(Austin, TX) — On August 8, 2022, State Representative Jared Patterson and fellow members of the Homeland Security & Public Safety and Youth Health & Safety joint committees met to discuss mental health and technology-related issues in the wake of the Uvalde tragedy. In the second scheduled committee hearing, testimony was heard from education administrators, mental health experts, state agency leadership, and technology associations.

From 2004 to 2011, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the iPhone would all be introduced to the public. Now, mental health professionals have learned that prolonged exposure to social media can lead to higher rates of low self-esteem and suicidal ideation. For every increased hour spent using social media, teens show a 2% increase in depressive symptoms. Teen girls who spend more than five hours per day on social media have a 66% higher risk of suicide. From 2007 to 2019, Texans 10- to 24-years old experienced a 47.1% increase in suicide deaths. After declining from 2000 to 2007, suicide rates of 10- to 14-year olds tripled from 2007 to 2017. After two decades of decline nationally, from 2010 to 2017, depressive symptoms for 13- to 18-year-old girls rose by 65%. These alarming statistics correlate to a rapid rise in social media use by young people.

Social media platforms use artificial intelligence, machine-learned algorithms, teams of engineers and even child psychologists to constantly improve at hooking users into staying on their platforms longer. As such, parents have an increasingly difficult job managing usage for their children, unlike other forms of entertainment.

As it relates to the incredible tragedy in Uvalde, the Robb Elementary Investigative Committee Report suggested social media users reported the attacker’s behavior to social media platforms, yet these platforms appeared to neglect issuing consequences to the user’s profile or communicating his behavior to law enforcement. The lack of response seems to correlate with reports from law enforcement members from House District 106 who have had significant challenges obtaining important information related to threats to the community.

Adolescent mental health concerns and child platform engagement have grown simultaneously. Therefore, direct invitations were sent out to Meta (Facebook & Instagram), Twitter, and TikTok to testify before the joint committee. They declined to attend or send direct representatives to respond to these concerns. Instead, large conglomerate industry groups, like TechNet, were sent to provide general testimony to the joint committee. Clearly unconcerned with effects of social media on young Texans, TechNet’s federal and state legislative priorities do not even mention youth mental health related to social media usage.

“Social media is the pre-1964 cigarette. Evidence continues to point toward the damage social media use has on our youth.” Rep. Patterson stated. “For years, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, have refused invitations to testify. It’s a slap in the face of all Texans that these platforms refuse to publicly answer questions from those elected to represent the people. However, as other committee members expressed, if you’re not at the table then you’re on the menu.”

Jared Patterson represents House District 106, which encompasses the eastern portion of Denton County. During the 86th Legislative Session, Patterson authored and passed initiatives in policy areas such as transportation, education, property taxes, as well as eliminated unnecessary and burdensome government regulations. Patterson serves on the House Committees on Business & Industry, Calendars, and Homeland Security & Public Safety. His family resides in Frisco.