US' Florida legislature passes ban on social media for children

Citing companies' "addicting feature" and concern over kids' mental health, House lawmakers cheered as they voted 108-7 to give the bill final approval.

23 Feb 2024 03:39pm
Photo for illustration purposes only. - 123RF
Photo for illustration purposes only. - 123RF

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Legislature passed a ban on social media for kids under 16 on Thursday, sending it to a sceptical Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and setting up the possibility of a court challenge, reported German news agency (dpa).

Citing companies' "addicting feature" and concern over kids' mental health, House lawmakers cheered as they voted 108-7 to give the bill final approval.

"These companies know what they are doing is wrong," said Representative Tyler Sirois, R-Merritt Island. "They have not acted. We will."

Whether Florida teens will be kept off social media any time soon is far from certain, however.

Hours before the bills passed the House and Senate, DeSantis said there were "legitimate issues that gotta be worked out" with the legislation. He said he wanted parents to have the ability to override the ban - something that isn't allowed in the bill.

"It's still under negotiation," DeSantis said. "I don't think it's there yet."

If DeSantis doesn't veto the bill, House Bill 1, it faces significant obstacles in the courts.

Social media companies have challenged other states' bans on social media for kids, claiming the legislation violates the US Constitution in various ways, including in stamping out kids' free speech.

Judges have agreed, and none of those bans have taken effect.

House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Naples, said the bill should pass constitutional muster because it's different than what passed in other states.

The bill bans kids from creating or having accounts on social media sites that have any "addicting features". Under the bill, those features include infinite scrolling, push notifications and alerts, auto-playing video, live-streaming and displaying personal metrics, such as likes or views.

Not all social media companies use those features, and therefore, wouldn't be affected by the bill, Renner said. Lawmakers have not said which platforms use those features.

If the courts find it unconstitutional, "We'll live with that," Renner said.

"We'll go back to the drawing board and try again."

House Bill 1 would not just affect minors. Social media sites would have to adopt third-party age verification software, requiring all Floridians to scan their face, for example, or show some sort of identification to show they're over 16. The third-party company would have to be based in the US and immediately delete the information.

Adult websites would also be required to adopt age verification. No one under 18 could view the sites.

Federal judges have ruled multiple times that requiring people to submit personal information, such as age verification, to access the internet is unconstitutional.

Federal judges and the US Supreme Court have repeatedly struck down efforts to restrict speech, even in the name of kids' safety. Judges in California, Ohio and Arkansas have cited those cases in stopping those states' bans from taking effect.

Renner and others have noted that social media can have positive effects. Teens have started businesses on social media. It's where they meet tutors, read the news, watch educational videos and chat with friends.

But pointing to rising rates of teen depression and suicides, Renner said the harms outweigh the good.

"These addictive features and personalised algorithms are vials of poison," he said Thursday.

Renner made the ban one of his top priorities this session, but resistance to the idea has grown in recent weeks.

Refusing to allow parents to override the state's ban has seemingly defied the parental rights movement that DeSantis and groups, such as Moms for Liberty, have championed.

Last week, the group's president, Tiffany Justice, hosted a podcast about the bill featuring two guests who were against the legislation. Although Justice didn't appear to take a stance, she applauded DeSantis' scepticism.

"At Moms for Liberty, we believe every parent has the fundamental right to direct the upbringing of their child," Justice said on the podcast.

Republican senators also questioned why the problems of social media shouldn't be handled by parents.

"My concern is the bill replaces the parent in that the decision - replaces it with a far-reaching government edict," Senator Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, said last week.

On Thursday, Trumbull joined four other Republican senators in voting against it. - BERNAMA

More Like This