‘An immense distraction’: Bill targeting social media in public school heads to Senate floor
Danny Burgess seeks an emphasis on social media literacy, Image via Colin Hackley.

A House version of the legislation also pends a floor vote.

Legislation that would require lessons on the dangers of social media and block access to social media platforms in public schools is heading to the Senate floor.

The Senate Fiscal Policy Committee voted unanimously for SB 52, which would direct the Florida Department of Education to procure a curriculum for students in grades 6-12 on social media safety.

The bill would also require school districts to restrict access to social media on school-provided devices and Wi-Fi and prohibit students from using mobile devices during class. There would be an exception when the devices, including laptops, are used “solely for educational purposes as directed by the teacher.”

“This is an immense distraction in the classroom,” said Sen. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican and the measure’s sponsor.

It’s also a major contributor to mental health strains and misinformation. According to the Pew Research Center, 95% of teens have a smartphone or access to one. While they are mostly positive about social media and its ability to strengthen friendships and provide emotional support, 45% feel emotionally overwhelmed by it.

A study by Stanford University found two-thirds of students are unable to differentiate between news stories and ads. Ninety-six percent do not consider how ties between an advocacy website and the industry could affect a site’s credibility.

The potential nefarious uses of social media — stalking, bullying, suicidal ideation and exposure to human traffickers, among other things — are myriad.

In 2018, police in Martin County revealed they’d been investigating a man who stalked young girls in 29 states, including one in Florida whom he’d met online when she was 12.

The U.S. Department of Justice reported last year that an estimated 1.3% of Americans 16 or older, or 3.4 million, were targets of stalking in 2019. About 27.5% of them (936,310 people) were victims of cyberstalking.

Pew researchers found that 67% of teens who are online “almost constantly” have been cyberbullied. Most (90%) believe online harassment is a problem for their age group.

Last month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida announced bullying, cyberbullying and internet safety as a “top priority” for outreach staff. The announcement came four months after a Pinellas County teen killed herself following years of targeted abuse online.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death of adolescents and young adults in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health, which funded research last year that found teens who experience cyberbullying are four times as likely to report thoughts of suicide and attempts as those who don’t.

Florida has the third-most human trafficking cases in America, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which has identified 6,168 cases in the state since its inception. And a 2021 Nova Southeastern University study confirmed what many suspected: Young social media users are more at risk of human trafficking victimization because they spend more time on platforms and are more likely to share personal information with predators.

“The research conducted in this study,” Nova researchers wrote, “reveals a need for increased education and awareness regarding the dangers and risks of social media use, especially by younger users.”

SB 52 has undergone significant changes since Burgess filed it Dec. 1. In its original form, the bill was a near carbon copy of legislation (SB 480) he introduced last year that only included requirements for social media safety lessons.

Burgess amended this year’s bill several times in the last few months to make it more congruent with a similar measure (HB 379) by New Port Richey Republican Rep. Brad Yeager, which initially included a requirement for social media safety instruction and a ban on social media access on school devices and Wi-Fi.

Burgess and Yeager have since updated their bills to include language allowing schools to prevent students from using their mobile devices in class.

Yeager’s bill cleared its final committee on March 14 and is up for a reading on the House floor Thursday.

Another Burgess-backed bill (SB 258) would ban social media created and maintained by a “foreign country of concern,” like TikTok and WeChat, from government devices and networks in Florida. It also awaits consideration on 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.

One comment

  • PeterH

    March 28, 2023 at 7:26 pm

    …..this unenforceable canard is brought to you by the Party of Small Government.

Comments are closed.


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