The Florida Senate is about to pass a bill to prevent kids from creating some social media accounts

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Kids and social media by diego_cervo via iStock for WMNF News.

By Jim Saunders ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Senate is ready Thursday to pass a high-profile bill that seeks to prevent children under age 16 from creating accounts on what lawmakers say are “addictive” social media platforms.

The Senate on Wednesday made changes to the bill (HB 1), a priority of House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, and positioned it for a vote. Renner supported the changes, which, at least in part, are designed to try to make the bill better able to withstand anticipated legal challenges.

The House overwhelmingly passed the bill last month but will have to consider it again because of changes made in the Senate.

The bill would prevent children under 16 from creating accounts on at least some social media platforms; require platforms to terminate existing accounts that they know or have “reason to believe” are held by minors younger than 16; and allow parents to request that minors’ accounts be terminated.

Renner and other supporters contend that social media harms children’s mental health and can be used by sexual predators to communicate with minors. Senate sponsor Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, likened social media use to drug use.

“It is just as bad, and it affects their brain development, and it affects their ability to participate in society,” Grall said. “And as we continue to pay the rising costs of mental health care, it is our job to step in as government and say they (social-media companies) must be held accountable.”

But other lawmakers Wednesday repeatedly pointed to parental rights and questioned why parents shouldn’t be able to decide whether children have social media accounts. Also, they cited courts blocking similar laws passed in other states.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association, a national industry group, issued a statement Wednesday that foreshadowed a potential legal challenge.

“Although CCIA (the association) shares the concerns of lawmakers regarding the safety of children and teens online, HB 1 is not adequately tailored to this objective,” Khara Boender, the association’s state policy director, said in the statement. “It puts young Floridians at risk by restricting their First Amendment right to access information and forcing companies to collect additional sensitive data on internet users. We encourage Florida lawmakers to resist following the path of other states in enacting a law with significant constitutional concerns that risks facing similar legal challenges.”

After the House passed the bill, Gov. Ron DeSantis, an attorney, expressed constitutional concerns. A Senate committee last week made a series of changes, and the full Senate revised the bill further on Wednesday.

The bill includes criteria for determining which platforms would be subject to the restrictions. The criteria would include issues related to algorithms, “addictive features” and allowing users to view the content or activities of other users.

Grall said the bill focuses on platform features — not content — as supporters try to address constitutional concerns.

The changes approved Wednesday addressed issues such as verifying the ages of potential social media users. The bill would require age verification before accounts are created, with the verifications also affecting adults.

Under the changes, social media platforms would be required to offer anonymous age-verification methods to potential users. The platforms also could offer what are described as “standard” age-verification methods. If both methods are offered, potential users would be able to choose the method.

Grall said technology is available to verify ages without requiring people to provide identification and that data would be deleted after verification. But Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, raised privacy questions.

“What assurances do you have that none of this information will be leaked out?” he asked.

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