House passes bill blocking kids from social media

Apps for social media in smartphone
The bill drew bipartisan support, but also raised concerns about trampling on parents rights.

The House has passed a ban on minors under age 16 keeping or opening social media accounts. But similar legislation has yet to move in the Senate.

Representatives approved legislation (HB 1) on a 106-13 vote. Speaker Paul Renner made the legislation a priority for this Legislative Session, arguing life online has compromised the mental health of Florida teenagers and put them at risk.

“Children have always faced mean girls and boys,” Renner said in a speech on the House floor at the start of Session. “But social media has changed the game and causes unprecedented damage to our children’s mental health.”

Sponsors said the dangerous environment found on social media networks cannot be ignored.

“When cops know that a dark street has a lot of crime on it, they’ll post an officer or they’ll install a streetlamp,” said Rep. Fiona McFarland, a Sarasota Republican.

“We lock our houses at night to keep ourselves and our family safe. And we don’t let minors drink or smoke because of the harms to their bodies and their brains at a developmental stage in their life. But when it comes to social media, it follows us everywhere with addictive little pings and algorithms that keep us constantly turning back to it, turning down sleep, turning down food so we can keep up with the latest what’s going on in our community.”

But Democratic opponents to the bill said such a change in state law would cut off avenues for finding positive communities and even starting businesses. Moreover, critics argue the measure compromises parents’ rights.

“Where is it going to stop, where we tell parents, ‘No, we in this body know better than you what’s good for your child’?” asked Rep. Ashley Gantt, a Miami Democrat.

She offered an amendment on the floor earlier this week that ultimately failed that would have left parents an option to let children open accounts.

Regardless, critics predicted any legislation would ultimately fail to stop teenagers from finding their way past age verification software and firewalls.

Rep. Daryl Campbell, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, said there are as many stories of youth success stories as tales of victimization, noting YouTube shows like Ryan’s World. That’s a toy review channel founded by Ryan Kaji’s family based on his request at age 3. It has since become one of the most successful channels on the platform.

“Supporting our children comes in more ways than removing social media,” Campbell said. “So don’t limit their advancement by telling them they can’t use it, because ultimately they are going to use it.”

The latest piece of legislation defines a social media platform as one where users can upload content or view materials put up by others, and where the companies providing the service can track the activity of users.

That covers such major platforms as Facebook, Instagram or X.

The legislation specifically excludes any exclusive communication software such as e-mail or direct messaging. It also exempts streaming platforms providing only licensed media that can be consumed by individuals.

But user-generated content puts a platform in the snares of the law. That seems to lump platforms like YouTube in with social media, while exempting streamers that only provide licensed content such as Netflix or Disney Plus.

The bill has the support of prosecutors in the state, who say social media often exposes children to predators. That concern led many Democrats to voice support for the legislation.

Rep. Katherine Waldron, a Wellington Democrat, voted for the legislation. She noted social media companies themselves acknowledge a problem with predators, and have worked with police on the problem.

“Despite their best efforts, content about human trafficking and child pornography keeps slipping into the algorithm,” she said.

But critics said the act, not the online medium, should be where the state focuses its energy.

“Nobody wants kids to be trafficked,” said Rep. Mike Gottlieb, a Davie Democrat. “But let’s face it. In the real world, kids are trafficked without the internet. We do what we can in that regard, and we should do what we can on it as it relates to internet crimes as well. You’re not necessarily solving the problem by taking away the internet.”

Ultimately, Rep. Tyler Sirois, a Merritt Island Republican, said the state doesn’t hesitate to protect children from environments like strip clubs or casinos. Social media platforms ultimately should be treated the same. He stressed the features on social media are intentionally designed to addict users at a young age, more like a digital drug than a source of entertainment.

“These companies’ business model is exploitation of behavioral tendencies,” Sirois said. “Put differently there. They’re just taken advantage of kids growing up. That’s their business model. And why do they do it? To keep them hooked?”

It’s unclear what future the legislation has in the Senate. There, Sen. Erin Grall, a Fort Pierce Republican, has filed a companion bill (SB 1788) that awaits being placed on an agenda for the Senate Judiciary Committee. Grall’s Office has not been told when the bill might be heard, but the bill also has not been dismissed from consideration.

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

  • Linwood Wright

    January 25, 2024 at 10:35 am

    Just more Bullsh1t to “protect the kids!”, while guns are out here killing far more kids than anything else. 🐂💩

    But you don’t hear Republicans wanting to do anything about that.
    It’s all “Save the Children from the Woke Agenda!” , “Save them from Trans people!”, “Save them from Social Media!”.

    Saving them from getting shot full of lead by a sicko with an AR-15 while they’re on the school playground? Nah. They have no interest in that.

    Republicans are fundamentally sick and deranged people.

Comments are closed.


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