DeSantis Signs Bill Banning Social Media for Kids Under 14

Reuters/Elizabeth Frantz
Reuters/Elizabeth Frantz
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday that will soon outright ban social media for children who are 14 or younger in Florida—one of the most restrictive laws against social media companies in U.S. history.

The bill, which is expected to face a flurry of legal challenges by social networks and first amendment groups, will also require written parental permission for children who are 15 and 16 to join social media, meaning some minors may be able to legally drive before they’re allowed to create a Facebook or Instagram account in Florida.

The new law will also require social platforms to erase any Florida-based accounts created by those 14 or younger by the time it goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2025.

At a bill signing event held inside a Jacksonville charter school, DeSantis claimed the legislation was necessary to protect children from online predators.

“It used to be, ‘Well, if they’re out somewhere, maybe they’re not supervised, maybe some predator can strike,’” he said. “Now, with things like social media and all this, you can have a kid in the house—safe, seemingly—and then you have predators that can get right in there, into your own home.”

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The bill was passed much to the ire of tech companies and free speech advocates. It was the top legislative priority of Speaker Paul Renner, a Republican, who said Monday it was the legislature’s job to protect children.

“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,” he said. “Because of that, we have to step in for them.”

The bill signed Monday was a watered down version of a stricter bill the Florida legislature passed, which DeSantis vetoed last month. The original bill would have blocked all minors younger than 16 from most social media websites, giving parents no say. Lawmakers also removed a provision that explicitly detailed how social media platforms must verify the age of users, now leaving it up to the companies to determine that.

Lawmakers said the bill was crafted to restrict access to any social platform that deploys “addictive” features, such as “infinite scrolling,” algorithms, and push notifications—a broad brush that’s meant to include any modern social network.

Rep. Tyler Sirois, a Republican state representative at Monday’s bill signing, called social media “digital fentanyl” while praising its passing.

Several states have considered or already passed similar legislation, though none quite as wide-reaching as Florida’s law. Arkansas passed a bill that requires parental consent for minors to create new social media accounts. That law has been put on ice by a federal judge, however, citing first amendment concerns.

Renner said Monday he expects tech companies to “sue the second after this is signed.”

“But you know what?” he added. “We’re going to beat them. We’re going to beat them and we’re never, ever going to stop.”

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Some Democrats joined Republicans in soundly passing the measure through the Florida legislature, but others have decried that the state is trying to parent children instead of leaving it up to their actual parents.

“This bill goes too far in taking away parents’ rights,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat, in a news release. “Instead of banning social media access, it would be better to ensure improved parental oversight tools, improved access to data to stop bad actors, alongside major investments in Florida’s mental health systems and programs.”

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