Changes expected in social media bill

by | Feb 2, 2024



Florida House Speaker Paul Renner announced plans to revise a contentious bill aimed at restricting children’s access to social media, addressing legal concerns raised by Gov. Ron DeSantis and anticipating challenges over First Amendment rights.


House Speaker Paul Renner said lawmakers will revise a bill aimed at keeping children off social media, as state leaders prepare to try to fend off expected legal challenges.

The House overwhelmingly passed the bill (HB 1) last week, but Gov. Ron DeSantis later raised legal concerns about the “breadth” of the measure. Parts of the tech industry also have contended the bill would violate First Amendment rights.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled Monday to take up the issue, which is a priority of Renner, R-Palm Coast. Opponents have said federal judges have blocked similar social-media restrictions in other states.

“We’re working very, very closely with the Senate, very closely with the governor’s team to get to a bill that will be upheld by the courts,” Renner told reporters Thursday evening. “We’re very mindful of all the legal challenges that will be raised and could be raised. But we do believe from the input we’ve been getting that our bill is in a unique position, that this is a better effort than previous state efforts (in other parts of the country). And with that, we have some confidence that we will succeed once a challenge is brought.”

Renner added, “Obviously as we go through the process, we continue to try to shape the clay to be prettier and prettier as it goes through. And so we believe the bill will be a smaller target for those we know are going to try to challenge this and we get to the crux of the issue, which is protecting children from addictive technology.”

Renner and other lawmakers argue social media harms the mental health of children and can be used by sexual predators to communicate with minors. The bill would prevent minors under age 16 from creating accounts. It also would require social-media platforms to terminate existing accounts that are “reasonably known” by the platforms to be held by minors younger than 16 and would allow parents to request that minors’ accounts be terminated.

The bill also would require platforms to use independent organizations to conduct age verifications when new accounts are created and would require denial of accounts for people who do not verify their ages. The organizations would be required to delete the data after ages are verified.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday is slated to take up a bill (SB 1788) that is similar to the House measure. The House bill also has been sent to the Senate and assigned to the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee. While it’s not clear how the issue will play out procedurally, one possibility is that the Senate would revise the House bill and send it back to the House for another vote.

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, has said she supports Renner on the issue.

“I am sympathetic, as a parent, to what is going on with our youth,” DeSantis said. “But I also understand that to just say that someone who is 15 just cannot have it (social media) no matter what, even if the parent consents, that may create some legal issues.”

DeSantis said the bill “likely is going to evolve” in the Legislature. “We’ll see if we get a product that is going to be good, but I am concerned about the breadth of it,” he said.

Meta, the parent company of platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, and tech-industry groups have criticized the proposal and warned about a court challenge.

“If passed, HB 1 would violate minors’ First Amendment rights by imposing a blanket restriction on access to constitutionally protected speech for anyone who is either under the age of 16 or refuses to comply with the law’s age-verification requirements,” the industry group NetChoice said last month on its website. “The fact that HB 1 covers the internet rather than books, television programs, or video games, does not change the First Amendment issue.”

Meanwhile, Renner is trying to keep up pressure on the industry. On Thursday, he sent a letter thanking the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for holding a hearing that included social-media executives “to confront essential matters related to the addictive nature of their platforms and the harmful effects they are having on America’s children.”

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