Senators back revised social media bill

by | Feb 16, 2024

The Florida Senate moved forward with a bill to ban children under 16 from social media, despite concerns about its constitutionality and impact on parental rights.

The Florida Senate on Thursday revamped a bill aimed at keeping children under age 16 off social media, as a debate continued about the proposal’s constitutionality and whether it would infringe on parental rights.

House Speaker Paul Renner has made the bill (HB 1) a priority, arguing that social media is harming the mental health of children. The Senate Fiscal Policy Committee on Thursday approved a series of changes that were supported by Renner, readying the bill to go to the full Senate.

“I believe that we have to do something to protect our kids,” Sen. Rosalind Osgood said before the committee voted 12-5 to back the bill. “I believe we were wrong to just turn our kids over to social media.”

But opponents said courts have struck down similar laws passed in other states and that parents should decide whether their children use social media.

“It is not the Legislature’s job to parent the parents in how they parent,” Sen. Shevrin Jones.

The House overwhelmingly passed the initial version last month, and the newly revised version does not change the basic components. It would prevent children under 16 from creating accounts on at least some social-media platforms; require platforms to terminate existing accounts that they know or have “reason to believe” are held by minors younger than 16; and 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.

But the revamped bill included changes in 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, for example, the criteria approved Thursday would include platforms that have “10 percent or more of daily active users younger than 16 years of age spending, on average, 2 hours per day on the online forum, website, or application.”

Senate bill sponsor Erin Grall said she didn’t know how many platforms could be affected by the proposal. But she said the bill is “content neutral” and focuses on the features of platforms.

“It is about the features,” Grall said. “It is the way the features are deployed to monetize our children and make them addicts.”

Under another change Thursday, the committee combined the bill with another measure that would require age verification to try to prevent minors under age 18 from having access to online pornographic sites. The House passed the bills separately.

Tech industry organizations and First Amendment groups have fought the social-media restrictions, arguing that they would censor speech and be unconstitutional. Gov. Ron DeSantis also has raised concerns about the constitutionality of restrictions.

In addition, the bill has refueled discussions in the Legislature about parental rights, which Republicans have stressed on other issues.

Sen. Jay Collins and Sen. Jay Trumbull voted for the bill Thursday but said they were struggling with the possibility of infringing on the rights of parents to make decisions. Collins said he was “very torn on this bill.”

Osgood joined 11 Republicans in voting for the bill, while five Democrats opposed it.


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