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Florida gets closer to banning social media for kids under 16

The state Senate passes a bill that targets any social media site that tracks user activity, allows children to upload material and interact with others, and uses addictive features

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at the South Florida Water Management EEA Reservoir Project Site in South Bay, Florida, January 2024.CRISTOBAL HERRERA-ULASHKEVICH (EFE)

Florida is on the verge of passing one of the nation’s most restrictive bans on minors’ use of social media after the state Senate passed a bill Thursday that would keep children under the age of 16 off popular platforms regardless of parental approval.

The measure now goes back to the state House, where the speaker has made the issue his top priority during the legislative session that ends March 8. Still, critics have pointed to similar efforts in other states that have been blocked by courts.

The bill targets any social media site that tracks user activity, allows children to upload material and interact with others, and uses addictive features designed to cause excessive or compulsive use. Supporters point to rising suicide rates among children, cyberbullying and predators using social media to prey on kids.

“We’re talking about businesses that are using addictive features to engage in mass manipulation of our children to cause them harm,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. Erin Grall.

Other states have considered similar legislation, but most have not proposed a total ban. In Arkansas, a federal judge blocked enforcement of a law in August that required parental consent for minors to create new social media accounts.

Supporters in Florida hope that if the bill becomes law, it would withstand legal challenges because it would ban social media formats based on addictive features such as notification alerts and autoplay videos, rather than the content on their sites.

But opponents say it blatantly violates the First Amendment and that it should left to parents, not the government, to monitor children’s social media use.

“This isn’t 1850. While parents show up at school board meetings to ban books, their kids are on their iPads looking at really bad stuff,” said Democratic state Sen. Jason Pizzo.

He sarcastically said lawmakers have other options if they want to parent other people’s children.

“Let’s have a bill that encourages engaging with your children, cooking dinner, sitting at a table together, making eye contact, calling grandma to see if she’s OK once in a while.” he said.

The state Senate passed the bill on a 23-14 vote, with a mix of Democrats and Republicans on both sides of the issue. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has expressed some skepticism of the legislation as currently written.

DeSantis said he understood that the platforms could be harmful to teenagers, but that parents need to play a role in monitoring use.

“We can’t say that 100% of the uses are bad because they’re not,” DeSantis said at an Orlando-area news conference. “I don’t think it’s there yet, but I hope we can get there in a way that answers parents’ concerns.”

Some parents also have mixed feelings.

Angela Perry, a mother from central Florida, said she understands the rationale behind bill, and that she and her husband didn’t let their daughter onto any major platforms until she turned 15. But she believes it should be up to every parent to make that decision based on the maturity of their children.

“Whatever happened to parental rights?” Perry said. “You are already selecting books my child can read at school. That is fine to a certain extent. But now you are also moving into their private life as well. It’s becoming intrusive.”

The Florida bill would require social media companies to close any accounts it believes to be used by minors and to cancel accounts at the request of a minor or parents. Any information pertaining to the account must be deleted.

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