LIFESTYLE

Florida House passes a bill to ban social media accounts for children under 16

Jan 24, 2024, 3:18 PM

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida children under the age of 16 would be banned from popular social media platforms regardless of parent approval under a bill passed by the House on Wednesday, a measure that is the top priority for the chamber’s speaker.

The bill doesn’t list which platforms would be affected, but it targets any social media site that tracks user activity, allows children to upload material and interact with others and uses addictive features designed to cause excessive or compulsive use. The bill would not affect apps used for private messages between individuals.

“They’re taking advantage of kids growing up. That’s their business model. And why do they do it? To keep them hooked … with the dopamine hits that the platform gives our children with every autoplay, with every like, with every push notification,” said bill sponsor Republican Rep. Tyler Sirois.

The House voted 106-13 for the bill, with several Democrats joining Republicans in support. Proponents argued that social media exposes children to bullying and sexual predators and can lead to depression, suicide and an addictive obsession.

Democratic Rep. Michele Rayner said she posted her position on the bill on X on Tuesday, and she referred to her deceased mother. On the House floor Wednesday, she read some of the hateful comments she received from the platform’s users, including people who posted, “Your mother sucks” and “Your mom was stupid.”

“I’m 42-years old … and comments like these were a gut punch to me, but I was able to navigate,” she said. “Imagine what our babies have to deal with when they have their friends in school doing the same cyberbullying to them.”

Meta, the company that owns Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, urged the House to seek another solution, such as requiring parental approval to download apps. It also wants the issue addressed on a federal level rather than a patchwork of different state laws.

“Many teens today leverage the internet and apps to responsibly gather information and learn about new opportunities, including part-time jobs, higher education, civic or church gatherings, and military service,” Meta representative Caulder Harvill-Childs wrote to the House Judiciary Committee. “By banning teens under 16, Florida risks putting its young people at a disadvantage versus teens elsewhere.”

Other states have considered similar legislation, but most have not proposed a total ban. In Arkansas, a federal judge blocked enforcement of a law in August that required parental consent for minors to create new social media accounts.

But Republican House Speaker Paul Renner, who has made the issue his top priority, said the Florida bill should withstand constitutional scrutiny because it targets the addictive features of social media, and not the content.

“It’s a situation where kids can’t stay off the platforms, and as a result of that, they have been trapped in an environment that harms their mental health,” Renner told reporters after the vote.

The Florida bill would require social media companies to close any accounts it believes to be used by minors and to cancel accounts at the request of a minor or parents. Any information pertaining to the account must be deleted.

Opponents argued that the bill would violate the First Amendment and take away benefits some children get from social media. And they said parents should make the decisions on which sites their children can visit.

Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani said social media was an outlet and comfort where she could find support after her mother died when she was 13.

“I think the intention of those who have filed (the bill) is absolutely golden. We have a concern about the impact of social media on our young people,” she said. “I just find the solution that you propose too broad and casts a wide a net with unintended consequences.”

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