The Florida Senate will take up a revised bill to limit access to social media by kids

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Child using social media on a smart phone. by Prostock-Studio via iStock for WMNF News.

By Jim Saunders ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Senate on Friday made a procedural move that sets the stage for lawmakers next week to consider a revised proposal aimed at keeping children off social media.

House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, and Gov. Ron DeSantis have been negotiating on the issue after DeSantis raised objections to a social-media bill (HB 1) that passed the House and Senate. The bill, a priority of Renner, includes trying to prevent minors under age 16 from creating accounts on at least some platforms.

DeSantis is expected to veto the bill. But the Senate’s procedural move would allow lawmakers to add a negotiated social-media proposal to a related bill (HB 3), which had been in a Senate committee, and pass it.

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said Friday morning that details of the proposal would become available later in the day. She said she expects the Senate to take up the issue Monday. If it passes the Senate, the proposal would go to the House for a final vote before the legislative session ends March 8.

“I know we all share a desire to protect children from content that is harmful. … There are differences for how to get there, but we all want to be part of the solution,” Passidomo told senators. “With HB 3 in our possession, we hold in our hands the opportunity to facilitate a potential solution to make sure this critical issue is addressed before the end of session.”

The procedural move involved removing HB 3 from the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee, which had not voted on it, and positioning it for consideration on the Senate floor.

The move ended days of speculation about how lawmakers would resolve the social-media issue. Renner acknowledged Wednesday that he and DeSantis were “looking at alternatives” to the bill that overwhelmingly passed the House and Senate.

DeSantis has raised questions about the measure’s constitutionality and whether it would infringe on parental rights. The bill was formally sent to him last Friday, giving him a week to decide whether to sign, veto or allow the measure to become law without his signature.

Along with preventing children under 16 from creating accounts on at least some social-media platforms, the bill would 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.

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.

Also, it would require platforms to use age verification before accounts are created, with the verifications also affecting adults.

Renner and other supporters of his bill say “addictive” social media harms the mental health of children and can be used by sexual predators to communicate with minors.

“It (social media) is a major existential threat to this generation and the coming generations,” Renner said Wednesday.

But critics have argued that parents should be able to decide whether children use social media. They have also cited court decisions that have blocked similar social-media laws in other states.

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