Minnesota lawmaker: Charge Facebook, Twitter for mental health impacts

Republican Sens. Paul Gazelka and Roger Chamberlain
Minnesota Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, right, speaks at a press conference in April 2019. A proposal by Chamberlain would charge social media companies a fee for having Minnesota users and require a health warning upon login.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, isn’t sold on his own plan to make large social media companies like Facebook and Twitter pay to operate in Minnesota.

“I’m not a big fan of tax increases,” he said.

Still, Chamberlain introduced a bill that would require social media companies with more than 100,000 users in Minnesota to register and pay an annual fee — the amount to be determined — while establishing a “social media impact fund.”

Another piece of legislation would require new cellphones and log-in screens for social media sites to carry this warning:

Create a More Connected Minnesota

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Social media use is addictive. Excessive use of mobile devices and social media platforms may lead to mental health disorders, reduced productivity, lack of sleep and social alienation.

A few other senators, nearly all fellow Republicans, have signed onto Chamberlain’s bills. However, he said the goal of the legislation isn’t necessarily to pass the bills into law — it’s about starting a conversation about the mental health issues linked to increased social media use.

The issue first came to Chamberlain’s attention a couple years ago, he said, while reading an article in the Atlantic by psychology professor Jean Twenge.

“She showed that there was a strong correlation ... between the advent of mobile devices, smartphones and social media, and the dramatic rise in mental health problems, especially mental health problems among children and youth and teenagers,” Chamberlain said.

Some psychologists have criticized Twenge’s work, and other research has found that social media can be positive for people’s mental health.

Yet there is a wealth of evidence suggesting social media has an overall negative effect on mental health. An analysis of more than 120 studies found that social media “likely causes more harm than good,” as Psychology Today writes.

At the Minnesota Capitol, Chamberlain said his goal is to start a conversation about the issue of mental health and social media use.

“Let's talk about solutions,” he said. “Because we have a duty and a right to protect citizens, and this stuff is doing great harm.”