Rep. Chris Stewart Proposes Social Media Ban

Rep. Chris Stewart on KTVX Salt Lake City
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) talks up his bill and talks down social media on KTVX Salt Lake City. (Image credit: KTVX)

Social media, including short-form video site TikTok, continues to be in the hot seat in the new Congress, particularly as it relates to children's health.

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), who last Congress introduced the Stop Online Suicide Assistance Forums Act (it has Democratic support), which would make it a felony to use online forums to assist someone else's suicide attempt, is introducing a new bill that would ban children 15 and younger from social media entirely (opens in new tab).

Speaking on CNN Tuesday (January 31), Stewart called sites like TikTok “emotional heroin“ with direct ties to youth anxiety and depression. Stewart says the key is effective age verification and penalties — legal class-action suits — for ineffective verification in the case of negative outcomes. 

He pointed out that those under 13 are currently not supposed to be on many sites, but that is not enforced.

Asked how he was getting ready for the expected pushback from Big Tech, Stewart said in a TV interview (opens in new tab): “Put on your helmet and prepare to get beat over the head.”

The move comes as Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and Gov. Spencer Cox, both Republicans, have signaled they will sue social media companies (opens in new tab) over their impact on kids.

Elsewhere this week, the House Energy & Commerce Committee under new chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said that TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew has agreed to testify before her committee about the site's impact on children as well as its connections to the Chinese government.

Rodgers made it clear TikTok’s CEO will get some tough questioning. “Big Tech has increasingly become a destructive force in American society,” she said. “The Energy and Commerce Committee has been at the forefront of asking Big Tech CEOs — from Facebook to Twitter to Google — to answer for their companies’ actions.”

The hearing is scheduled for March 23. ▪️

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.