Florida Pushes Forward a Social Media Ban for Kids Under 16

Florida’s legislature has passed a bill banning children younger than 16 from having social media accounts despite some pushback from Governor Ron DeSantis, who said he will be wrestling with whether to sign the measure into law. Due to a procedural requirement, DeSantis will have to sign or veto the proposed legislation before lawmakers conclude the current session in a matter of weeks. He has expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of a provision to let parents override the restriction, which would curtail access to the most popular sites, potentially impacting TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube.

There are also challenges teeing up on constitutional grounds should DeSantis sign the bill, FL HB1 (24R). The Republican governor requested changes that would give parents a say. The Republican legislature signed it February 22 with that provision intact, despite a potential veto.

The measure “could potentially upend the lives of millions of young people in Florida,” writes The New York Times, noting that the new rules would require social networks to both prevent people under 16 from signing up for accounts and terminate accounts that a platform knew or believed belonged to underage users.”

Politico says the bill would require some social media platforms “to prohibit anyone younger than 16 from creating an account and mandate that they use a third party for age verification services.”

NBC News reports “the House passed the bill on a 108-7 vote Thursday just hours after the Senate approved it 23-14.” The bill targets social media sites that track user activity and use “addictive features” designed to foster “compulsive use.” Other features identified as problematic are letting children upload material and allowing them to interact with others online.

“Supporters point to rising suicide rates among children, cyberbullying and predators using social media to prey on kids,” NBC News says. But NYT writes that “federal courts have blocked less-restrictive youth social media laws enacted last year by Arkansas and Ohio.” And the Los Angeles Times reports that the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments in two cases — from Florida and Texas — “that could have a profound effect on the future of the Internet and social media,” including this potential law.

Reuters says Meta Platforms, parents of Facebook and Instagram, objects to Florida’s proposal, but “has said it supports federal legislation for online app stores to secure parental approval for downloads by people younger than 16.”

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