DeSantis signs refined social media bill into law

by | Mar 25, 2024

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 3 into law on Monday, which intends to mitigate harmful and addictive impacts of social media on children by restricting features and requiring parental consent for users under 16.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 3 (HB 3) into law Monday, targeting addictive features utilized by social media platforms. Joined by House Speaker Paul Renner and other state officials, DeSantis delineated that the revamped legislation’s focus was predicated upon targeting predatory practices without infringing on free speech principles.

The amended legislation introduces a prohibition against social media account creation for individuals under 14 years of age, modifying the original bill’s broader ban that included all minors under 16. The new version additionally permits 14 and 15-year-olds to create social media accounts, contingent upon receiving parental or guardian consent.

The legislation further targets features deemed “addictive,” such as infinite scrolling, auto-play, and live streaming, which are believed to contribute to the negative impact on young users’ mental health and increase their exposure to online predators.

“Social media harms children in a variety of ways,” DeSantis said. “HB 3 gives parents a greater ability to protect their children.”

The bill garnered broad bipartisan support, with lawmakers highlighting the urgency of mitigating the risks associated with social media, including exposure to online predators and the impact on mental health. Education Commissioner Manny Diaz and Attorney General Ashley Moody also backed the initiative. Before the commencement of the most recent Legislative Session, Renner took on the measure as a policy priority.

“We know from law enforcement we know from our prosecutors that social media is the primary platform in which children are trafficked, in which pedophiles pretending pretending to be children come after our children, and that more crimes against children happen on these platforms in any other venue,” said Renner. “But we also know that social media platforms have caused a devastating effect in mental well being or children. This is an issue where we can no longer stand on the sidelines because of what we know.”

Renner expressed confidence that the legislation’s design, which was re-crafted to steer clear of regulating content to focus on addictive features, will hold up against potential legal challenges, particularly those related to the First Amendment.

“What we did that’s unique in this bill is we didn’t focus on content. I don’t we will not find a line in this bill that addresses good speech or bad speech because that would violate the First Amendment,” he said. “We’ve not addressed that at all. What we have addressed is the addictive features that are at the heart of why children stay on these platforms for hours and hours on end.”

Earlier this month, DeSantis vetoed the initial drafting of the bill that would have placed restrictions on social media use by minors in the state, citing concerns over parental rights and the effectiveness of the proposed law. The legislation, which passed both chambers of the Florida Legislature would have broadly prohibited individuals under the age of 16 from creating social media accounts and required platforms to delete accounts of minors upon request by them or their parents.

It also included provisions for social media companies to implement age verification processes to enforce these restrictions.

Despite its passage in both the House and Senate, DeSantis expressed reservations about the bill’s implications for parental oversight of children’s online activities, while signaling support for a forthcoming, revised proposal.

“I have vetoed HB 1 because the Legislature is about to produce a different, superior bill,” he said in a memorandum. “Protecting children from harms associated with social media is important, as is supporting parents’ rights and maintaining the ability of adults to engage in anonymous speech. I anticipate the new bill will recognize these priorities and will be signed into law soon.”

In anticipation of the veto, lawmakers introduced changes to the legislation, which was signed into law today. The amendment, filed by Sen. Erin Grall, aimed to address the gap in enforcement of existing federal laws that prohibit children under 13 from having online accounts by introducing third-party age verification.

“The compulsive use of social media has a detrimental impact on children’s mental health, well-being, and brain development, one that our state, and every state across the country, is seeing and experiencing in real-time,” Grall said on Monday. “Today, however, Florida is a leader in the fight against these lethal technologies that have been deliberately designed to manipulate reality and take advantage of childhood vulnerabilities. We have rejected the commoditization of children and platforms that prey on their age and exposes them to the worst kind of predators and harms.”

HB 3 received pushback from NetChoice, a tech company, which penned a letter to the governor requesting a second veto on the legislation. The group has repeatedly referred to the bill as unconstitutional and a privacy risk for sensitive personal data.

“An unconstitutional law will protect exactly zero Floridians. HB 3 is also bad policy because of the data collection on Floridians by online services it will in effect require. This will put their private data at risk of breach,” said Carl Szabo, NetChoice Vice President & General Counsel.  “HB 3 forces Floridians to hand over sensitive personal information to websites or lose their access to critical information channels. This infringes on Floridians’ First Amendment rights to share and access speech online.”

During Monday’s press conference, Renner rebuffed any potential legal challenges, claiming that the bill was written in a way that presents resistance to legal challenges, directly referencing NetChoice, who the House Speaker predicted would be among the first to file a lawsuit.

“This … is exactly what groups like NetChoice will sue the day after this bill is signed,” Renner stated. “But you know what? We’re gonna beat them. We’re gonna beat them and we’re never ever going to stop.”


%d bloggers like this: