The Florida Senate is poised to take up a bill to prevent children under 16 from having social media accounts after it was passed by the House

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Social media apps on an iPhone. Illustration by hapabapa via iStock for WMNF News.

By Jim Saunders ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — A day after the House overwhelmingly passed the bill, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo on Thursday backed a proposal that seeks to prevent children under age 16 from having social media accounts and said the Senate will start moving forward with it.

House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, has made the bill (HB 1) a priority for this year’s legislative session. It was not immediately clear Thursday when Senate committees would take up the issue, though it could come after the Senate addresses budget issues next week.

“I support the concept, I support the bill,” Passidomo told reporters. “The speaker is so passionate about the issue. My conversations with him, you know he has two little kids, and his concerns are valid. So we’re going to take up the bill. I don’t know if members (senators) are going to suggest proposed changes. If they do, I’m certainly going to discuss it with the speaker. It’s his initiative, and I support it fully.”

The House on Wednesday voted 106-13 to pass the bill, with supporters saying social media harms children’s mental health and can be used by sexual predators to communicate with children. Opponents argue the bill is unconstitutional and that parents should decide whether children use social media.

“This is about protecting children from addictive technology and what we know harms them,” Renner told House members after the vote. “And what the social-media platforms know. For years, they have known this and they have failed to act. By your vote today, we have done so.”

The bill would prevent minors under 16 from creating social-media accounts and would require social-media platforms to terminate existing accounts that are “reasonably known” by the platforms to be held by children younger than 16. It also would allow parents to request that minors’ accounts be terminated.

The bill would require platforms to use independent organizations to conduct age verifications when new accounts are created and would require denial of accounts for people who do not verify their ages. The organizations would be required to delete the data after ages are verified.

Meta, the parent company of platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, and the industry groups NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association have publicly criticized the bill and argued that it would violate First Amendment rights.

“Legislation like this violates federal law and positions the government to block access to legal information online — a constitutional right even younger users do have,” Khara Boender, state policy director for the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “It would also lead to online companies needing to collect additional personal data on users to show compliance at a time when companies are taking steps to collect less data. CCIA (the association) supports families’ deciding together on what online material is appropriate, and online businesses offer dozens of tools to set up their own filters rather than have governments making this decision for them.”

Renner has disputed that the bill would violate First Amendment rights, and Passidomo also downplayed the issue Thursday.

“It’s interesting, whenever someone doesn’t like a bill, they say, ‘Oh, it’s unconstitutional,’” said Passidomo, who, like Renner, is an attorney. “I’m not the courts. I don’t have the opportunity to make that decision. I think the speaker is committed to it, it’s an important issue and, again, we’ll see what happens over here in the Senate.”

Sen. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, has filed a similar Senate bill (SB 1788). Procedurally, Senate committees could start moving forward with that bill. Passidomo also could simply assign the House bill to one or more Senate committees.

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