Florida social media ban passes legislature, headed to DeSantis' desk: What to know

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Florida's bill barring minors from using social media is headed to the governor's desk after approval in back to back State House and Senate votes Thursday.

The bill, known as HB 1, would bar anyone younger than 16 years old from creating new social media accounts and terminate existing accounts for those 16 and younger. It stands out among similar bills introduced around the country as it does not allow for exemptions with parental permission. It passed the House with bipartisan support in January.

A slightly modified HB 1 passed the Senate with a 23-14 vote Thursday morning, with five Republicans breaking from the majority to oppose the bill and two Democrats voting in favor.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the modifications, which sought to clarify how the law would define social media and make age verification process more private, were not quite enough. The House voted again in favor to approve the revisions later that day anyways, sending it to the Governor's deck.

"Parents need to have a role in this," DeSantis said at a press conference Thursday afternoon. "I do think parents are concerned about social media and what goes on there, and I do think they think it's a problem. But I also think that for people that are in high school, it's not as simple."

DeSantis has seven days to sign or veto it. He has previously said he wouldn't support the bill if it couldn't withstand "legal muster." With many of the other bills around the country stuck in legal battles, this bill may be put to the test too if it becomes law.

Florida social media ban: Florida lawmakers want to ban social media for minors: 'Woke' censorship or safety?

House of Representatives on the opening day of the 2023 Florida Legislative Session. The House passed two priority bills within the first few weeks of the 2024 Florida Legislative Session.
House of Representatives on the opening day of the 2023 Florida Legislative Session. The House passed two priority bills within the first few weeks of the 2024 Florida Legislative Session.

What is HB 1, Florida's social media ban for minors?

Here's what HB 1, Online Protection for Minors, does:

  • Requires social media platforms to prohibit kids 15 and younger from creating new accounts, terminate existing accounts probably held by kids 15 and younger, and allow parents and children to request termination of accounts.

  • Requires social media platforms to use reasonable age verification methods to verify the ages of account holders and disclose specified policies and provide specified resources, measures and disclaimers.

  • Authorizes the Department of Legal Affairs (DLA) to bring actions for violations under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

  • Provides penalties.

  • Declares that any social media platform accessible in Florida is subject to the jurisdiction of state courts.

Supporters of the bill have said the point wasn't to keep children off the platforms but to force platforms to change their addictive ways.

Senate revised age verification process and social media definition

The revisions made to the bill aimed to clarify what social media features would trigger the ban and address privacy concerns around the age verification process. However, the bill remained mostly intact as it moved through the legislature.

Senators tweaked the definition of social media platform, so that affected ones must in part have "addictive features," including infinite scrolling, push notifications and auto-play videos.

Another change to the legislation, OK'd Wednesday, requires social media and pornographic platforms to offer an anonymous age-verification option to users by third-party services, which aren't allowed to retain personal identifying information.

95% of teens between 13 and 17 use social media

Social media has become nearly ubiquitous among youth. The 2023 U.S. Surgeon General's Advisory on Social Media and Youth Mental Health found that nearly 95% of youth aged 13 to 17 use a social media platform, with more than a third saying they use it "almost constantly."

The advisory concluded that more research is needed to fully understand the impacts of social media. But current research shows there are some benefits and "ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents."

Potential benefits identified in the advisory were community, connection and self expression. It also stated that social media can support mental health of LGBTQ youth to help develop their identities. Additionally, seven out of 10 girls of color reported encountering identity-affirming content related to race on social media, the advisory stated.

Potential harms of using social media included greater risk of suffering from depression and anxiety. Some studies also showed greater risk of negative health outcomes for adolescents girls including disordered eating and poor sleep.

Ohio, Utah measures restricting minor's social media use stalled by lawsuits

Florida isn't the first state to attempt to limit social media access for youth. Here are some other states' bills and how they got held up:

  • Ohio - The Social Media Parental Notification Act would have prohibited social media use for teens under 16 without parental consent. It was blocked by a federal judge after NetChoice, a trade organization with several social media companies as members, challenged the constitutionality of the law.

  • Arkansas - Similar to Ohio, this law would have required parental consent for minors to sign up for social media accounts. NetChoice sued the state for violating the First Amendment, and it has not gone into law.

  • Utah - In addition to requiring parental consent for minors to use social media, the Utah law also aims to keep teens offline between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. It was slated to go into effect in March, but that was pushed back to Oct. 1 as it faces lawsuits from NetChoice and digital rights group The Electronic Frontier Foundation. Lawmakers have introduced additional bills trying to limit social media for teens in the 2024 legislative session.

California is also in a legal battle with NetChoice on a multifaceted law intended to safeguard children online.

Meta opposes HB1 and NetChoice calls it 'unconstitutional'

Still, Facebook's parent company Meta has been opposed to the legislation. In a letter to the House's Judiciary Committee for the original bill, the company argued it undercut parents' ability to make their own decisions about their kid's social media use and raises data privacy concerns.

"While our company recognizes the goals of House Bill 1, we believe this bill, as currently drafted, not only fails to empower parents to make the decision regarding whether their teen may use a social media platform but also fails to create robust, industry-wide standards that help parents and teens manage their online activity," the letter penned by Meta's Southeast public policy manager Caulder Harvill-Childs states.

Meta spokesperson Rachel Holland said in an emailed statement Friday that HB 1 needs to provide clear rules for parents.

"Teens move fluidly across online services and youth online safety bills that hold different services to different standards in different states will subject teens to inconsistent protections online," said Holland.

NetChoice's vice president and general counsel Carl Szabo previously called the bill "unconstitutional."

"If enacted, it will jeopardize the privacy and security of Floridians who use the internet," Szabo said in an emailed statement to USA TODAY in January. "The Free State of Florida deserves better than a massive, unconstitutional internet surveillance program.”

Their stance hasn't changed with the amendments to the bill as it heads to the governor's desk. "We appreciate the changes to HB 1, but while the bill is less unconstitutional, it is still unconstitutional," Szabo wrote Thursday.

Contributing: Brandon Girod, Emilee Coblentz; USA TODAY Network

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Florida social media ban for minors under 16 moves to governor's desk