Bill to ban minors from social media and terminate youths' accounts passes Florida House (2024)

Kinsey Crowley,Douglas SouleUSA TODAY

The Florida House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill Wednesday that would ban social media for minors under the age of 16.

The bill, known as HB 1, passed Wednesday in a 106-13 vote, with only a portion of Democrats in opposition. A priority for House leadership, the bill is moving to the upper chamber less than three weeks into the Florida legislative session.

The bill would require social media platforms to prohibit minors from creating new accounts, terminate existing accounts of those younger than 16 and use age verification for account holders, without a parental permission exemption.

The proposal will still have to pass the state Senate before making it to Gov. Ron DeSantis's desk. In that case and barring any legal trouble, it would go into effect in July. But if similar measures in Ohio and Utah are any indication, legal trouble may be difficult to avoid.

More: US surgeon general wants to protect kids' mental health on social media. Here are some tips.

Florida HB 1 passes swiftly with bipartisan support

Bill sponsor Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota, called social media “digital fentanyl.”

“Social media companies themselves know how addictive their technology is, and they’re even unable to police the bad guys,” McFarland, a mother of three said on the House floor before the vote. “This legislation would be far better served to be done at the federal level... but I cannot wait for others to act when I have a tool at my disposal to protect our teens and Florida’s future.”

In the name of parental rights, GOP lawmakers in recent years have passed a slew of controversial policies affecting minors, including the "Don't Say Gay" bill, book bans and private school voucher expansions.

“Allowing parents to have the ability to make decisions on how they parent their child is the reason we passed (the voucher expansion bill) last year,” said Rep. Ashley Gantt, D-Miami, who voted against the bill. "In this bill, we’re saying parents have no ability at all to make the ultimate decision.”

One of the bill's sponsors is a relatively progressive member in the House; Rep. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, criticized social media companies for profiting off children.

DeSantis’ office has not responded to questions from the Tallahassee Democrat, part of the USA TODAY Network, about his position on the bill. During a press conference after the vote, House Speaker Paul Renner said they’re working “very closely” with the Senate on the bill, and that there’s “not any disagreement on where the bill’s headed.”

Bill to ban minors from social media and terminate youths' accounts passes Florida House (1)

Bill to ban minors from social media and terminate youths' accounts passes Florida House (2)

House Speaker Paul Renner gives 2024 legislative session's opening remarks

House Speaker Paul Renner outlined two priorities. One restricts social media use under age 16. Another requires porn viewer age verification.

95% of teens between 13 and 17 use social media. It comes with benefit and harm

Social media has become nearly ubiquitous among youth. The 2023 U.S. Surgeon General's Advisory on Social Media and Youth Mental Health found that nearly 95% of youth aged 13 to 17 use a social media platform, with more than a third saying they use it "almost constantly."

The advisory concluded that more research is needed to fully understand the impacts of social media. But current research shows there are some benefits and "ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents."

Potential benefits identified in the advisory were community, connection and self expression. It also stated that social media can support mental health of LGBTQ youth to help develop their identities. Additionally, seven out of 10 girls of color reported encountering identity-affirming content related to race on social media, the advisory stated.

Potential harms of using social media included greater risk of suffering from depression and anxiety. Some studies also showed greater risk of negative health outcomes for adolescents girls including disordered eating and poor sleep.

Bill to ban minors from social media and terminate youths' accounts passes Florida House (3)

Bill to ban minors from social media and terminate youths' accounts passes Florida House (4)

Mayor Eric Adams compares social media to cigarettes, guns

Mayor Eric Adams called out several social media companies for fueling what he said is a mental health crisis in teens.

Fox - 5 NY

Ohio, Utah measures restricting minor's social media use stalled by lawsuits

Florida isn't the first state to attempt to limit social media access for youth. Here are some other states' bills and how they got held up:

  • Ohio - The Social Media Parental Notification Act would have prohibited social media use for teens under 16 without parental consent. It was blocked by a federal judge after NetChoice, a trade organization with several social media companies as members, challenged the constitutionality of the law.
  • Arkansas - Similar to Ohio, this law would have required parental consent for minors to sign up for social media accounts. NetChoice sued the state for violating the First Amendment, and it has not gone into law.
  • Utah - In addition to requiring parental consent for minors to use social media, the Utah law also aims to keep teens offline between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. It was slated to go into effect in March, but that was pushed back to Oct. 1 as it faces lawsuits from NetChoice and digital rights group The Electronic Frontier Foundation.

California is also in a legal battle with NetChoice on a multifaceted law intended to safeguard children online.

Meta opposes HB1 and NetChoice calls it 'unconstitutional'

In debates on the House floor, the bills' sponsors declined to name specific social media platforms that would have to uphold this ban, and instead said the legislation is trying to address "addictive features."

Still, Facebook's parent company Meta is opposed to the legislation. In a letter to the House's Judiciary Committee, the company argued it undercut parents' ability to make their own decisions about their kid's social media use and raises data privacy concerns.

"While our company recognizes the goals of House Bill 1, we believe this bill, as currently drafted, not only fails to empower parents to make the decision regarding whether their teen may use a social media platform but also fails to create robust, industry-wide standards that help parents and teens manage their online activity," the letter penned by Meta's Southeast public policy manager Caulder Harvill-Childs states.

NetChoice's vice president and general counsel Carl Szabo called the bill "unconstitutional."

"If enacted, it will jeopardize the privacy and security of Floridians who use the internet," Szabo said in an emailed statement to USA TODAY. "The Free State of Florida deserves better than a massive, unconstitutional internet surveillance program.”

As someone deeply immersed in the realm of social media and its impact on society, I can confidently analyze the multifaceted issues raised in the article you provided. Let's break down the concepts and themes touched upon:

  1. Florida HB 1: This bill, passed by the Florida House of Representatives, aims to ban social media for minors under the age of 16. It involves measures such as prohibiting minors from creating new accounts, terminating existing accounts of those under 16, and implementing age verification for account holders.

  2. Supporting Arguments: Proponents of the bill, like Rep. Fiona McFarland, argue that social media can be addictive and harmful to teenagers' mental health. They emphasize the need for parental control and intervention to protect youth from potential harms associated with excessive social media use.

  3. Opposition: Some lawmakers, like Rep. Ashley Gantt, oppose the bill, citing concerns about parental rights and arguing that parents should have the ultimate decision-making authority regarding their children's social media use.

  4. National Context: The article contextualizes Florida's bill within a broader national landscape, mentioning similar measures in other states like Ohio, Arkansas, and Utah. These states have also attempted to regulate minors' access to social media, but their efforts have faced legal challenges, particularly regarding constitutionality and First Amendment rights.

  5. Social Media and Mental Health: The article highlights the prevalence of social media use among teenagers, citing statistics from the U.S. Surgeon General's Advisory. It acknowledges both the benefits, such as community and self-expression, and the risks, including depression, anxiety, and negative health outcomes like disordered eating and poor sleep.

  6. Corporate Responses: Meta, the parent company of Facebook, opposes Florida's HB 1, arguing that it undermines parental decision-making and raises concerns about data privacy. NetChoice, a trade organization representing social media companies, deems the bill unconstitutional and warns of its potential impact on internet privacy and security.

  7. Legal Challenges and Delays: The article mentions legal challenges faced by similar bills in other states, such as Ohio and Utah, indicating potential obstacles and delays in implementing Florida's HB 1.

By delving into these concepts and providing a comprehensive analysis, it's evident that the regulation of social media use among minors is a complex issue with implications for parental rights, youth mental health, corporate interests, and constitutional principles.

Bill to ban minors from social media and terminate youths' accounts passes Florida House (2024)
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