Ban on Social Media for Kids Under 16 Passes Florida Legislature


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida state legislature has overwhelmingly passed a bill which bans teens and children under 16 from using social media. The policy is now only one step away from becoming law: the signature of Governor Ron DeSantis.

The Florida state Senate approved the bill on a 23-14 vote, and then the state House of Representatives in a 108-7 vote on Thursday. Both the Republican majority and Democratic minority in both houses have members for and against the bill. The legislation has the backing of Florida House Speaker Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast), who is nearing the end of his tenure in office later this year.

The bill requires major social media platforms to disallow minors under the age of 16 from using their applications, and deleting accounts which they can reasonably determine are held by those 15 and younger. Advocates say the policy would help address cyberbullying and online stalking of children by predators and pedophiles.

Opponents of the bill, titled HB-1, say it's a violation of free speech to ban kids from social media across the board, and that's ultimately up to parents to decide what constitutes a healthy relationship between kids and the internet.

It's not entirely clear whether Governor DeSantis intends to sign the bill or not, but previous statements suggest he may not. "I think it's harmful for them to be on some of those platforms that have certain functionality that is addictive," DeSantis said in comments reported by Politico. "I agree with that. But I also believe that parents need to have a role in this."

A study published by the National Library of Medicine summarized that there can be correlations between social media usage and negative effects in youth users. "We have to keep in mind that media usage may be related to some adverse consequences especially in the most vulnerable people, such as the young," the study's authors said.

Courts have routinely held that the right to access to social media is not protected under the First Amendment, but those cases almost universally concern instances where the social media application was banning or restricting individual users (Trump's social media bans following the January 6th riots for instance).  Some free speech advocates, like the ACLU, see a government restriction on social media usage as being out of bounds.

"The age-verification requirements in HB-1 place barriers between users, whether they’re adults or minors, and their constitutional right to speak online," said Kara Gross, legislative policy director and senior policy counsel at the ACLU of Florida. "Age verification requirements also blatantly chill the speech of adults by requiring them to surrender their anonymity to engage in constitutionally protected speech."