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HomeTech NewsFlorida passes a bill to restrict social media access for under-16s

Florida passes a bill to restrict social media access for under-16s

Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature has passed a bill aimed at banning individuals under the age of 16 from social media platforms, citing concerns about the potential risks to young people’s mental health.

Having already received a first round of votes in January, the legislation is currently pending approval from Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.

The bill proposes terminating accounts of those under 16 and implementing a third-party verification system to screen out underage users. DeSantis, expressing reservations about potential privacy infringements, emphasised the need to strike a balance and expressed a preference for parental supervision over government intervention.

The bill, approved by the Florida House of Representatives with a vote of 108-7, focuses on addressing the perceived harmful effects of excessive social media use on children’s well-being, including anxiety and depression. Critics argue that the legislation violates the First Amendment’s protections for free speech, asserting that decisions about children’s online presence should be left to parents rather than the government. Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, opposes the bill, citing concerns about limiting parental discretion and raising data privacy issues related to age verification.

While the bill does not name specific social media platforms, it targets those with features such as ‘infinite scrolling’ and reaction metrics such as likes, auto-play videos, live-streaming, and push notifications. Email, messaging, and texting platforms are exempt. Florida House Speaker Paul Renner emphasised addressing constitutional concerns by focusing on addictive features, enhancing anonymity provisions in age verification, and imposing penalties to hold Big Tech accountable. The bill includes provisions for social media companies to permanently delete information from terminated accounts and allows parents to bring civil lawsuits against non-compliant companies.

Why does it matter?

Utah became the first US state to regulate children’s access to social media in March 2023, followed by Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, and Texas. The legislative analysis for the Florida bill indicates that numerous other states are considering similar regulations in response to growing concerns about the impact of social media on children’s mental health.