Florida Enacts the Nation’s Most Restrictive Social Media Law

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a bill into law preventing children under 14 from creating new social media accounts, and requiring platforms to delete existing accounts, with no opportunity for parental consent. For children 14- to 15-years of age, consent of a parent or guardian is required to create or maintain accounts. Without it, or upon request, the accounts and personal data must be deleted, with fines of up to $50,000 per incident per platform. The law, set to take effect in January 2025, is being called the most restrictive passed by any state and is sure to face First Amendment scrutiny by the courts.

The New York Times calls Florida “the first state to effectively bar residents under the age of 14 from holding accounts on services like TikTok and Instagram,” and says the new law is “likely to upend the lives of many young people.”

The move is part of a broader, albeit less severe, nationwide push to protect young people from mental health and safety risks considered by many to be endemic to social media.

“The law doesn’t name specific platforms, but targets social media sites that rely on features such as notification alerts and autoplay videos that encourage compulsive viewing,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Social media companies that “fail to promptly delete accounts belonging to 14- and 15-year-olds can be sued on behalf of those kids and may owe them up to $10,000 in damages each” and “a ‘knowing or reckless’ violation may also be considered an unfair or deceptive trade practice, subject to up to $50,000 in civil penalties per violation,” reports The Verge.

An earlier bill, vetoed by DeSantis on March 1, would have prohibited all children under 16 from many social platforms. “The law DeSantis ultimately signed Monday gives parents the power to grant 14- and 15-year-olds consent to use the applications,” Politico points out.

“Similar legislation has been proposed in other states, but those bills stop short of the total ban enacted in Florida,” writes WSJ, noting that “a federal judge in Arkansas blocked a law in late August that would have required age verification for social-media users and parental consent for minors’ accounts.” The California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act was enacted in September 2023.

“In December, more than 200 organizations sent a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) to schedule a vote on the Kids Online Safety Act, or KOSA, which seeks to create liability, or a ‘duty of care,’ for apps and online platforms that recommend content to minors that can negatively affect their mental health,” writes NBC News.

Can Florida’s Social-Media Ban for Minors Work?, The Wall Street Journal, 3/26/24

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