Patrick Theisen: If social media legislation is in, carveouts should be out

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Technology, and social media have become the backbone of the daily routines of our nation’s youth.

The development of the internet — and its deployment as not only the fundamental underpinning of the global economy but also the foundation for how human beings around the world communicate and interact — is staggering not only in size and scope but in speed.

In a little more than a generation, the manner in which economies and industries have functioned for centuries has been turned on its head and how humans have engaged with each other since time began has been forever altered. The change is so profound — and fast — that the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution seem almost insignificant by comparison.

While the overwhelming majority of that dramatic change has been beneficial to the planet and its inhabitants, there are times when the rapid adoption of technology has threatened long-held economic and societal values. We are managing through one of those societal challenges now — the impact of modern communication, i.e., “social media,” on certain segments of society, most notably children.

In today’s current climate, technology and social media have become the backbone of the daily routines of our nation’s youth. A Gallup study found that American teens are spending an average of 4.8 hours online daily.

Increased social media use has positively affected young users, giving them a space to freely express themselves and their ideas, but also has created a space where they may be vulnerable to potential non-age-appropriate material. Accordingly, many policymakers at all levels of government in all parts of the country are looking for solutions and suggesting various policy proposals to address this challenge. Florida is no different.

Florida’s House Bill 1, titled Social Media Use for Minors, was introduced earlier this year by House Speaker Paul Renner, Reps. Fiona McFarland and Tyler Sirois, and Sen. Erin Grall, all Republicans. If it were to become law, House Bill 1 would create an outright ban on social media accounts for users under the age of 16.

This proposed approach continues to face backlash from those — especially parents — who believe parental consent is a better legislative solution than a ban, which Gov. Ron DeSantis has even admitted would be difficult to enforce.

U.S. Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio have both voiced that policymakers should focus on personal consent. In Scott’s words, “You have to get parental consent. All of the social media stuff, we ought to focus on parental consent.” And, to quote Rubio, “I strongly hope parents can have more tools about monitoring and controlling what young children can see on social media, but in the end, it is about empowering parents to make those decisions.”

However, our primary concern is slightly different and lies in the details of House Bill 1, whose definition is ripe with subjectivity and appears to actually exempt major industry players like Snapchat, Discord, and even Google’s YouTube and YouTube Kids.

According to the Pew Research Center, the three most-used platforms by teens are YouTube (93%), TikTok (63%), and Snapchat (60%). How can Florida lawmakers, in good conscience, support legislation to “protect children” while carving out the platforms that teens spend most of their time on?

Unfortunately, Big Tech carveouts have grown in popularity over the past two Legislative Sessions, especially as states have attempted to regulate social media themselves. A prime example is Arkansas’ 2023 Social Media Safety Act, which carved out YouTube from the state’s social media law. However, before going into effect, Arkansas’ bill was blocked by the courts, who used the carveout to help justify their injunction.

Florida’s taxpayers, companies, and courts do not deserve a law that will be litigated, struck down, and leave the Florida Legislature — traditionally the champion of parental rights and the free market — with nothing to show for their efforts to provide greater oversight of social media for teens.

Instead, the Legislature should stop trying to pick winners and losers, and instead preserve free market competition and a level playing field for all.

Smart regulation of the modern economy should entail consistent fostering of innovation coupled with vigorous consumer protection. A patchwork of rules and regulations and carving out winners and losers accomplishes neither — it stifles innovation and exposes consumers. Florida can do better than House Bill 1. We look forward to working with policymakers to ensure it does.


Patrick Theisen is executive director of Americans for a Modern Economy.

 Americans for a Modern Economy (AME) is committed to ensuring that local, state and federal policies reflect changing technologies that are reshaping the way consumers, businesses and communities operate in the 21st century economy. AME works with consumer advocates, businesses, think tanks, economic experts and others to raise awareness and inform discussions about the current and future policy challenges of new technology. We serve as a resource for lawmakers to help them develop modern policy solutions that benefit all Americans by expanding consumer freedom, allowing businesses to best serve their customers and preserving free market competition.

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  • Dr. Franklin Waters

    February 8, 2024 at 2:08 pm

    Just so everybody is clear on this, banning social media use for kids would also require adults to provide their ID to the government and these social media companies in order to use them. Are you sure you’re comfortable with that? I’m sure as hell not.

    That’s what this bill is really about. They want your information.

    • Dont Say FLA

      February 9, 2024 at 11:01 am

      Ding ding ding! Dr Franklin Waters get it.

      It’s the same thing as the legislation about internet porns. It’s the government getting a foot in the door for monitoring everyone’s online activities. Right now they say they want “who.” But next they’ll, ahem, “need” to know what everyone’s doing online.

      Trump continuously makes the claim “they’re coming for me because they’re coming for you.” Here they are actually coming for you. What’s Trump going to do about it?

      It’s his side coming for you. Trump’s G0P is coming for you.

      Since every G0P are mere hapless followers of Trump, it’s Trump.

      Trump is coming for you.

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