House considers social media restrictions for children on floor

social media 2017
Sponsored called online platforms 'digital fentanyl' hurting kids.

Florida lawmakers are continuing to take steps toward blocking children under the age of 16 from social media.

Legislation offering some of the first age restrictions in the country on use of the digital platforms sparked discussion on the House floor. Sponsors of the bill (HB 1) say the commonplace use of the communications by teenagers took its toll over the last decade on the mental health of teens.

“Social media companies are well aware of this danger,” said Rep. Tyler Sirois, a Merritt Island Republican.

“Former executives and whistleblowers have acknowledged that these platforms are designed to exploit our children’s vulnerabilities, deploying features that are addictive. Like a digital fentanyl, our children are challenged to break this habit which, according to a psychology professor who testified before our Regulatory Reform Subcommittee, literally deprives them of sleep and sunshine.”

The legislation now awaits final debate and a vote on the House floor.

The bill has been a priority of Speaker Paul Renner.

But several Democrats questioned if the restrictions could be enforced, or if it’s the role of government to monitor children online.

“Even your answers suggest that there are less restrictive means, such as some kind of content regulation or some kind of algorithm regulation or something else, that we could do rather than an entire prohibition against the use of social media by children,” said Rep. Mike Gottlieb, a Davie Democrat.

Supporters of the legislation often turned to Rep. Michele Rayner, a St. Petersburg Democrat co-sponsoring the bill. As colleagues raised concerns about violating the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause or the First Amendment rights of free speech, she said court interpretations allow the Legislature the ability to regulate within the state.

“I grew up in a household where my mama told me that until I paid some bills at her house, I didn’t really have any First Amendment rights,” Rayner said.

The House passed an amendment to the legislation that more carefully defined what constitutes a social media platform. Lawmakers declined to name any specific platforms, and instead discussed addictive features such as the ability to upload content and the availability in “infinite scroll” to read an endless supply of posts.

That appears to cover major platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and X. But lawmakers suggested if the market responded by dropping some of the features, that would determine if the restrictions still applied. Similarly, if a new service launched that did have features, the law would immediately apply.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, offered an amendment that would put a curfew on social media use instead of an outright ban. But Sirois argued addiction doesn’t exist only within certain hours of the day. The change was ultimately rejected on the floor.

Others voiced concerns that a number of minors enjoy an income stream from social media, but the legislation would prohibit them from having accounts.

Rep. Ashley Gantt, a Miami Democrat, said she supports giving parents control over whether their children go online but doesn’t want an outright ban. She offered language to leave the matter to parents, while also proposing the bill cover children up to age 18.

“This amendment gives parents the choice,” she said.

But bill sponsors also fought back that proposal. Rep. Fiona McFarland, a Sarasota Republican, suggested some parents will feel pressure from teens to allow them on social media because of peer pressure at school.

“It would put that parent in that very difficult situation and tremendous burden,” McFarland said.

Republicans similarly shot down proposals to limit restrictions to those under age 13. Sirois said the decision to set a cutoff on restrictions at 16 was based on limits proposed by health experts.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].

One comment

  • Hung Wiil

    January 23, 2024 at 5:26 pm

    Conservatism is now government saving us from ourselves? If you have to do something, although you really don’t, pay for public service announcements encouraging parents to pull their heads out. Let’s get real . . . the toothpaste is not going back into the tube. Even though everyone acknowledges how stupid, addictive, and destructive all of this is, they are not going to give it up. Throw in the towel on this. Don’t alienate a generation to push them into the Democrat party. This will do that and will be struck down by federal courts anyway. Waste of time, money . . .

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