Senate passes amended social media bill

by | Feb 22, 2024

The Senate on Thursday approved legislation requiring social media platforms to verify the age of users under 16 and restrict their account creation, with exemptions for certain types of platforms, amid debates over privacy and First Amendment rights.

The Florida Senate passed legislation on Thursday that would alter how minors interact with social media platforms in Florida, requiring age verification processes for users under 16 years old.

The bill, passed by a 23-14 margin, mandates that social media companies would be barred from allowing individuals under 16 to create new accounts. Platforms would additionally be tasked with deleting existing accounts if they are known, or suspected, to belong to minors under the specified age limit. For users aged 16 and 17, the bill mandates that platforms provide detailed disclosures regarding the risks associated with social media use. The legislation now moves back to the House for a final decision before potentially reaching Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.

The bill delineates exemptions for platforms primarily focused on messaging, streaming, news, sports, entertainment, online shopping, and gaming, thus narrowing its application to social media platforms with interactive and potentially addictive features.

On Wednesday, the Senate updated the social media bill to strengthen its legal foundation and address privacy issues. Changes include the requirement for social media platforms to use third-party, U.S.-based services for age verification of new users, clarification on which platforms the regulations apply to, particularly those with potentially addictive features or content-sharing capabilities.

The bill now also mandates anonymous age verification options to enhance user privacy and requires the immediate deletion of any data collected during the verification process.

The House passed the bill in January, but now must vote again on the amended version before the measure reaches the Governor’s desk.

Various stakeholders, including the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), have spoken in opposition of the bill, questioning potential First Amendment violations and adequate legal standing.

“Although CCIA shares the concerns of lawmakers regarding the safety of children and teens online, HB 1 is not adequately tailored to this objective,” CCIA State Policy Director Khara Boender said in a Wednesday statement. “It puts young Floridians at risk by restricting their First Amendment right to access information and forcing companies to collect additional sensitive data on internet users. We encourage Florida lawmakers to resist following the path of other states in enacting a law with significant constitutional concerns that risks facing similar legal challenges.”

Similarly, 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.

Early in the bill’s legislative lifespan, DeSantis 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,” he said last month. “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.”

According to House Speaker Paul Renner, who took on the legislation as a priority during the ongoing Legislative Session, 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.

In an attempt to mitigate claims of First Amendment violations, Renner argued in January 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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