Florida’s DeSantis signs tough social media ban: No one under 14

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis applauds during a press conference at the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District headquarters at Walt Disney World, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Florida will have one of the country's most restrictive social media bans for minors — if it withstands expected legal challenges — under a bill signed by DeSantis on Monday, March 25, 2024.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed one of the nation’s most restrictive social media laws, barring anyone under age 14 from having an account. And teens 14 and 15 would need explicit parental permission to obtain an account.

According to The Associated Press, the stringent requirements are “slightly watered down from a proposal DeSantis vetoed earlier this month.” The earlier proposal would have barred social media accounts under age 16 — even in cases where parents provided permission.

“The law doesn’t name specific platforms, but targets social media sites that rely on features such as notification alerts and autoplay videos that encourage compulsive viewing,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

Should it withstand expected legal challenges, the bill would be effective Jan. 1, 2025.

AP quoted Florida’s Republican Speaker of the House Paul Renner: “A child in their brain development doesn’t have the ability to know that they’re being sucked into these addictive technologies and to see the harm and step away from it and because of that we have to step in for them.” He had earlier named the bill his top legislative priority.

At the signing, held at a local school, Renner said he expects social media platforms to sue “the second this is signed.”

The New York Times reported the signing makes Florida the first state to “effectively bar residents under 14″ from social media accounts, “enacting a strict social media bill that is likely to upend the lives of many young people.” The article called it the latest salvo “in an escalating nationwide push to insulate young people from potential mental health and safety risks on social media platforms.”

Besides not allowing new accounts, social media platforms will be expected to terminate those belonging to users who are deemed too young to legally have their own account.

Noting that “social media harms children in a variety of ways,” DeSantis said in a written statement that the bill will help parents protect their children.

Legal challenges

As the Deseret News has reported, several social media companies, including Meta, Snap and TikTok, have banded together to form an industry group called NetChoice, which has already challenged laws with some success.

“Judges in Ohio and Arkansas, for instance, have blocked laws in those states that would require certain social networks to verify users’ ages and obtain a parent’s permission before giving accounts to children under 16 or 18. A federal judge in California has halted a law in that state that would require certain social networks and video game apps to turn on the highest privacy settings by default for minors and turn off by default certain features, like auto-playing videos, for those users,” per the Times.

A TikTok spokesman told The Wall Street Journal that its policies are already intended to protect teens and it plans to “continue to work to keep the platform safe.”

Utah was the first state to pass legislation imposing restrictions on social media companies, but in the last legislative session, it delayed implementation until October and amended some of the provisions. Under the updated law, companies must enable the highest level of privacy settings as a default on children’s accounts and verify the age of users, as well as offer parents tools to supervise social media use. Children will also only be allowed to message connected accounts.

A different bill allows parents who can show harm to a child caused by “excessive use of algorithmically curated social media” to sue and seek redress, while providing the companies with an affirmative defense under certain circumstances.

As the Deseret News reported in February, two U.S. Supreme Court decisions are pending on suits filed in Florida and Texas that involve NetChoice. “The Florida law would stop social media companies from banning the accounts of political candidates and media publications, while the Texas law says platforms can’t moderate content based on a person’s point of view,” the article reported.

One of the questions being addressed is whether social media companies will be treated like a phone carrier or more like a newspaper, per that article. The outcomes could be very different based on that.

What are parents doing?

The ninth annual American Family Survey took an in-depth look at social media use and found that it is a major concern for parents, but many of them aren’t being very proactive about monitoring it or restricting it. The nationally representative poll is conducted by YouGov for the Deseret News and Brigham Young University’s Wheatley Institute and its Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

The survey found about two-thirds of parents who have teenagers in the 13-17 age category are “doing something” to monitor their child’s social media, according to an article in Deseret Magazine. About 4 in 10 have placed content restrictions on teens’ social media. About 1 in 4 restrict private messaging, accounts, contacts and screen time.

And 1 in 3 said they don’t do anything to limit or monitor social media.

Jeremy C. Pope, political science professor at BYU and a survey report author, described the bottom line this way: “People wish social media was a little bit better, but they don’t exactly know how to fix it.”