DeSantis casts doubt over scope of social media bill

by | Jan 26, 2024

Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed cautious support for legislation restricting social media use by minors but questioned its legal feasibility and scope.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday pledged baseline support for legislation limiting the usage of social media for minors in Florida but cast doubt over its scope, questioning the legality of the measure.

During a press conference touting the state’s semiconductor industry investures, DeSantis acknowledged the negative impact of social media on youth, describing it as a “net negative.” However, he also recognized potential legal complications that could arise from a blanket ban on social media usage for minors, especially in cases where parents might consent to its use.

“I think social media has been a net negative for our youth, without question,” the governor said. “Now, having said that, there have been other states that have tried to do similar things that have met resistance in the courts. I want a pathway for this to actually stick. This is something that’s likely going to evolve as it gets through the House and makes its way through the Senate and we’ll see if we get a product that is going to be good, but I am concerned about the breadth of it.”

House Bill 1, among the most sweeping social media-focused measures, was approved in a bipartisan 106 to 13 House vote this week and spearheaded by House Speaker Paul Renner, who named the measure as part of his legislative priorities for the ongoing Session. Co-sponsored by Reps. Fiona McFarland and Tyler Sirois, the bill, if adopted, would require social media platforms to terminate accounts held by minors under 16 and mandate age verification processes for new users.

If platforms permit minors under 18 to create accounts, they would be required to disclose information on addictive designs, provide resources on various safety concerns like suicide prevention and bullying, and include reporting mechanisms for harassment and violence threats.

“People on both sides of the aisle are realizing we’ve made a grievous mistake by letting go on for this long,” said Renner. “The goal is to address a platform designed specifically to be addictive to all of us.”

The chamber also passed House Bill 3 on Wednesday, introduced by Sens. Chase Tramont and Toby Oberdorf, which introduces age verification checks for websites with material deemed unsuitable for children. The mandate, if adopted and signed into law, would utilize an independent third-party verification process, with immediate deletion of verification data.

According to Renner, the measures were filed in response to rising concerns about the negative mental health effects of social media on teenagers, especially high school girls, who have shown increasing rates of loneliness and depression.

Critics of the bill, however, argue that it infringes on parental rights and raises significant constitutional and privacy issues. Tech industry representatives, including Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and NetChoice, a tech industry group, have voiced concerns about the bill’s potential violation of First Amendment rights and the practical challenges of implementing age-verification systems.

In an attempt to mitigate claims of First Amendment violations, Renner argued earlier this month that the bill focuses on the addictive aspect of social media, rather than its content.

“I’m the first one to step up and say I believe in the First Amendment, as a military guy. I fought for your right to do things I don’t like,” Renner told reporters. “But what we’re aiming at is the platform. We’re not aiming at the words. We’re aiming at only those platforms that we know are highly addictive and also highly damaging.”


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