Revamped social media bill emerges

by | Mar 4, 2024

In response to Governor Ron DeSantis’ veto of a previous bill, Florida lawmakers are advancing a revised proposal aimed at limiting social media use by children under 16, with provisions for parental consent for 14- and 15-year-olds.

After Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed an earlier bill, Florida lawmakers will take up a revised plan that would try to keep children under age 16 off social-media platforms — but would allow parents to give consent for 14- and 15-year-olds to have accounts.

The revised plan emerged Friday after negotiations between DeSantis and House Speaker Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican who has made a priority of curbing social-media use by children.

Also Friday, DeSantis vetoed the earlier bill (HB 1), which had easily passed the House and Senate. DeSantis raised questions about the bill’s constitutionality and whether it would infringe on parental rights.

“I have vetoed CS/HB 1 because the Legislature is about to produce a different, superior bill,” DeSantis said in a veto message. “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.”

A key change in the revised plan is allowing parents to give consent for 14- and 15-year-olds to have social-media accounts. Another key is that the revised plan removed age-verification requirements that were in the earlier bill.

Renner, who had opposed allowing parental consent for children to have accounts, described the revised plan as a “product of compromise.” But Renner also said he thinks it could better withstand expected First Amendment challenges.

“We’re happy. We believe that we started out with a very, very good bill, and now this (revised) bill is even better, and I mean that,” Renner said during a news conference. “There’s a number of improvements, and we think what that does is, while we felt strongly that we had better than a puncher’s chance to go into court with the last bill, we feel like our chances are very, very good with this bill.”

For example, he pointed to removing the age-verification requirements that had been included in the earlier bill. The age-verification requirements also would have affected adults creating accounts.

Social-media platforms would have been required to offer anonymous age-verification methods to potential users. The platforms also could have offered what were described as “standard” age-verification methods. If both methods were offered, potential users would be able to choose the method.

As an alternative to such requirements, Renner said the revised plan would seek to ensure compliance with the age limits by opening social-media platforms to lawsuits for violations. That would include lawsuits filed by the state attorney general and lawsuits filed on behalf of minors.

The tech-industry group NetChoice praised DeSantis’ veto but also quickly signaled Friday that the revised plan likely would face a court challenge if it passes. It cited a court ruling that blocked similar restrictions passed in Ohio.

“To verify that a minor is under 16 and that the adult verifying is actually that minor’s parent or guardian, that will in effect require social media companies to verify identities,” Carl Szabo, NetChoice’s vice president and general counsel, said in a prepared statement. “This is the same unconstitutional idea as Ohio had, and a federal judge has already granted NetChoice an injunction against that law. Courts across the country have been shooting down these types of laws as unconstitutional.”

Anticipating DeSantis’ veto and the release of the revised plan, the Senate on Friday made a procedural move that will allow it to take up the plan Monday. The plan will be amended onto a related bill (HB 3) that had been in a Senate committee. The procedural move involved withdrawing the bill from the committee.

After the bill’s expected approval by the Senate, it would need to go to the House for a final vote.

Renner and other lawmakers have targeted what they call “addictive” features of social media, arguing that usage harms children’s mental health. Also they say social media can be used by sexual predators to communicate with children.

“We understand that these addictive features are the problem. They’re the root of the problem,” Rep. Tyler Sirois, a Merritt Island Republican who has sponsored the proposed restrictions, said during the news conference. “And these companies are intentionally deploying them to exploit the way that our children think and behave and develop and form relationships and receive information. And it’s got to stop.”

The revised plan, like the earlier bill, includes criteria for determining which platforms would be subject to the restrictions. The criteria would include issues related to algorithms, “addictive features” and allowing users to view the content or activities of other users.

Also, like the earlier bill, it would require age verification to try to prevent minors under age 18 from having access to online pornographic sites.


%d bloggers like this: