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Florida House votes to ban social media for children under 16

Gov. Ron DeSantis said that while he agrees certain platforms can be addictive, he believes the legislation should focus more on the parents' role.
Florida House votes to ban social media for children under 16
Posted at 6:20 PM, Feb 22, 2024

Florida lawmakers voted in favor of legislation to ban social media for children under the age of 16. The Thursday vote marked the start of a possible political tussle between those in Florida's legislature who are for the drafted bill as it stands, and those — including the state's Gov. Ron DeSantis — who say the language still has a ways to go. 

Gov. DeSantis said on Thursday that he agrees that a number of social platforms have the potential to cause addictive behaviors, but said "parents need to have a role in this," the Orlando Sentinel reported. 

DeSantis said he doesn't believe the bill, in its current form, is ready to be passed and signed into law, but said, "Hopefully, we'll be able to get there in a way that, I think, answers the concerns that a lot of folks have."

The bill — HB 1 — which was approved by Florida's Senate in a 23-14 vote, and then sent back to the House where it was approved in a 108-7 vote — has the potential to be one of the most restrictive bans on social media use for minors in the United States. 

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Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, a Republican, had already made changes to the House bill's original language, hoping to address DeSantis' concerns regarding privacy. 

The legislation focuses on social media sites that monitor and track the activity of their users. Florida lawmakers are concerned with how minors have access to upload materials like images and interact with other users. Lawmakers have also expressed concerns over the addictive behaviors facilitated by social platforms. 

Those against the bill say it goes too far. Florida Sen. Tina Polsky, a Democrat, said that while "parenting is very difficult," that "doesn't mean that the government needs to step in."

There are concerns that courts will find the bill unconstitutional. 

State Sen. Erin Grall, a Republican who sponsored the bill, said, "We're talking about businesses that are using addictive features to engage in mass manipulation of our children to cause them harm."

Similar legislative efforts in other states, that did not go as far as implementing a total ban, were blocked in court. In Arkansas a federal judge halted enforcement of legislation that would require parents to give their consent before minors could create social media accounts. 

Last year, in Utah, two laws were signed by Republican Gov. Spencer Cox to prohibit children under 18 from using social media between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. The legislation also included requirements on age verification for social media users in the state. It also created opportunities for lawsuits on behalf of children to be filed citing harm caused by the platforms. 

Florida Democratic state Sen. Jason Pizzo said, "Let's have a bill that encourages engaging with your children, cooking dinner, sitting at a table together, making eye contact, calling grandma to see if she's OK once in a while."

Gov. DeSantis said at a news conference before the Florida legislation passed, "We can't say that 100% of the uses are bad because they're not."

According to the Florida House bill, social media companies would be required to close any accounts believed to be used by children under 16, and delete any data related to the accounts.  

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