Florida Senate passes a revamped bill to keep kids under 16 from having some social media accounts

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

By Jim Saunders ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Gearing up for an expected legal battle, the Florida Senate on Monday overwhelmingly passed a revamped plan aimed at keeping children off social media.

The Senate voted 30-5 to approve the plan (HB 3), three days after Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed an earlier version (HB 1). DeSantis and House Speaker Paul Renner, who has made a priority of the social media issue, negotiated the revamped plan.

Renner, R-Palm Coast, and other supporters of restrictions contend that social media harms children’s mental health and can lead to sexual predators communicating with minors. The bill seeks to prevent children under the age of 16 from opening social media accounts — though a key change in the revised version would allow parents to give consent for 14- and 15-year-olds to have accounts.

“We have to do something, and we can’t stand by any longer and allow them, these (social media) companies, to own our children with this terrible content,” Senate sponsor Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, said.

It was not immediately clear Monday morning when the House would vote on the bill, but it is all but certain to pass. The annual legislative session is scheduled to end Friday.

After the revamped plan was released Friday, the tech-industry group NetChoice and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a free-speech group known as FIRE, released statements foreshadowing a First Amendment fight about the bill. They pointed to courts blocking similar laws passed in other states.

“Federal courts have halted enforcement of similar laws in Ohio and Arkansas,” FIRE said in a prepared statement. “If HB 3 passes, Florida will be next in line.”

Grall, an attorney, indicated Monday that backers of the bill hope courts will address issues such as whether social media platforms use “addictive” features that harm children. She also said parts of the bill take into account issues that have led to laws getting blocked in other states.

The bill would prohibit children under 14 from opening social media accounts but would allow 14- and 15-year-olds to open accounts with parental consent. That is a significant change from the bill DeSantis vetoed. That bill would not have allowed parental consent to open accounts — an issue that drew objections from DeSantis.

But Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, said Monday the revamped bill continues to be “government overreach.” Similarly, Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said it would be “arbitrary” to have an outright ban for 13-year-olds but allow 14-year-olds to have accounts with parental consent.

“I remain a ‘no’ on this bill because I don’t think it is up to us to tell parents when they should allow their children to be on social media,” Polsky said.

Along with Powell and Polsky, dissenting votes were cast by Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, and Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando.

The bill does not name social media platforms that would be affected. But it includes a definition of such platforms, with criteria related to such things as algorithms, “addictive features” and allowing users to view the content or activities of other users.

The earlier version of the bill would have directed age-verification requirements for platforms. Those requirements also would have affected adults creating accounts.

But the revamped plan does not include the requirements. As an alternative, supporters hope to ensure compliance by opening social media platforms to lawsuits for violations of the age restrictions. That would include lawsuits filed by the state attorney general and lawsuits filed on behalf of minors.

Like the earlier version, the bill would require age verification to try to prevent minors under age 18 from having access to online pornographic sites.

You may also like

Talking elections and reproductive healthcare with Ashley Brundage and Tampa Bay Abortion Fund

On Aug. 20, voters in Hillsborough County will participate in...

The Scoop: Fri. June 14th, 2024 Tampa Bay and Florida headlines by WMNF

Today is Flag Day. Some TECO customers protest a rate...

Disney ends legal fight with state and district

By: Jim Saunders with News Service of Florida TALLAHASSEE —...

Florida black bear
Wildlife activists say kill the bear bill, not the bears

Debate over HB 87 continues. The Sierra Club of Florida...

Ways to listen

WMNF is listener-supported. That means we don't advertise like a commercial station, and we're not part of a university.

Ways to support

WMNF volunteers have fun providing a variety of needed services to keep your community radio station alive and kickin'.

Follow us on Instagram

Midnight Soul
Player position: