House panel ‘likes’ TikTok ban, restrictions on social media, cell phones in schools

Helsinki, Finland,  May 4, 2019: Tik Tok application icon on Apple iPhone X screen close-up. Tik Tok icon. tik tok application. Tiktok Social media network. Social media icon
The plan is to deplatform students — while they’re in class.

Florida schools have been facing their own social media challenge, but not one that will gain them any online clout.

On Thursday, state lawmakers took a step to handle the issue.

Members of the House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee unanimously voted to advance a bill (HB 379) to restrict access to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and ban TikTok on district networks and devices.

The measure would also prohibit students from using cellphones in class, authorize teachers to designate a specific area for the devices to be placed during instructional time, and mandate new lessons on cyberbullying, predatory behavior and human trafficking.

Outside of class, students would still have access to social media sites and apps if they have their own mobile data plan.

New Port Richey Republican Rep. Brad Yeager, the bill’s sponsor, cited 2018 and 2019 reports by Common Sense Media that found 69% of children own cell phones by age 12 and 95% of teenagers have access to social media.

“We have a responsibility to help Florida students disconnect from the negative effects of a digitally dominated world and reconnect to the world of opportunities ahead of them,” Yeager told Florida Politics by email.

“Research demonstrates the significant detrimental impacts of social media use on mental health and childhood development, including a dramatic increase in cyberbullying cases. Ensuring that students put down their devices and eliminate distractions will help students focus and teachers succeed in the classroom.”

The bill — which Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed last month, citing TikTok’s ties to China’s communist government — earned praise from both sides of the political aisle.

Tampa Rep. Susan Valdés, the committee’s ranking Democratic member, worried the effects of social media on youths are far from being fully understood. And while much research has focused on the impacts on girls, particularly regarding body image, she said, “I wonder how it affects boys.”

Tampa Republican Rep. Traci Koster, the committee Vice Chair, took particular shine to the provision in the bill enabling teachers to confiscate phones.

“I’ve been hearing from a lot of school teachers that in their classrooms they can’t make kids put their phones away,” she said. “I know my phone distracts me pretty frequently, so I imagine it does the same to our students.”

Parker Powell, an analyst from CFO Jimmy Patronis’ Office, signaled support for the measure.

So did Barney Bishop, President and CEO of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, who cited research showing 46% of teens in the U.S. today are on social media “almost constantly,” up from 24% in 2015.

He talked about a 2014 Florida International University study that found Facebook use led to greater body dissatisfaction among young women.

“Social media doesn’t cause low self-esteem,” he said. “But it exacerbates it.”

HB 379 has two more stops — the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee and the Education and Employment Committee — before heading to a full chamber vote. A similar measure (SB 52) by Zephyrhills Republican Sen. Danny Burgess awaits the second of three committee hearings it’ll need before reaching the Senate floor.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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