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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Florida's new social media ban for minors is among the toughest in the nation

Gov. Ron DeSantis signing the social media bill surrounded by children and other politicians
Gov. Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a high-profile bill aimed at keeping children off social media platforms on March 25, 2024.

Florida is already preparing to defend its new social media ban for kids under 14. The measure was signed into law Monday by Gov. Ron DeSantis, alongside House Speaker Paul Renner and other state officials.

Florida is already preparing to defend its new social media ban for kids under 14. The measure was signed into law Monday by Gov. Ron DeSantis, alongside House Speaker Paul Renner and other state officials. The law is considered to be one of the strictest in the nation and social media companies, since first learning of the effort months ago, have already said they’ll sue.

“You better believe I’ll fight like hell to uphold this in court,” said Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody during the bill signing ceremony at a Jacksonville charter school. Moody warned that social media encourages child predation, and that some children, especially young ones, don’t realize they’re being manipulated and can end up in dangerous situations.

The law’s main proponent is Speaker Renner. He made the issue his top priority during the legislative session and the measure passed with bipartisan support. Renner’s plan targets social media companies like Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok that use what he describes as manipulative algorithms that are “leading them [children] and nudging them into a particular direction. And oftentimes when they’re suffering mental health issues, that’s nudging them into a very, very dark direction.”

The law targets features like infinite scrolling and likes, which Renner believes feed addictive behaviors “that give you that little dopamine hit, that little drug hit that makes you want to stay online longer and longer.”

Under the bill, social media accounts for kids under 14 would be completely banned and companies would have to terminate such accounts. Kids between 14 and 15 could have accounts, but only with parental or guardian consent. Anyone over 16 is free to be on social media.

The measure comes after years of growing frustration over social media companies’ inability, or unwillingness, to keep problematic content away from kids. The measure cleared the Florida legislature with overwhelming bipartisan, but not unanimous support.

“HB3’s sweeping prohibition of youth from social media runs contrary to a Supreme Court precedent and tells Florida families how to parent,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, in a prepared statement in response to the bill signing.

“Though I agree more needs to be done in protecting our youth on social media, this bill goes too far in taking away parents' rights and banning social media usage -- and thus First Amendment Rights -- for young Floridians. Instead of banning social media access, it would be better to ensure improved parental oversight tools, improved access to data to stop bad actors, alongside major investments in Florida’s mental health systems and programs,” she said.

A coalition of First Amendment groups urged Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto the bill. The group, which includes the organization NetChoice which is backed by tech companies, argued against the measure.

“Lawmakers shouldn’t be controlling what ideas and information parents can allow their children to access. This is government overreach. The internet, including social media platforms, contains vast amounts of constitutionally protected speech for both adults and minors. Blanket bans infringe upon our constitutional rights,” said Katie Blankenship, Florida Director for the free speech rights group PEN America.

Earlier this month DeSantis vetoed a bill that would’ve banned minors under 16 from social media, regardless of parental consent. In response to that bill, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, criticized the proposal and said in a letter to state lawmakers that the decision to remove kids from social media should be left up to the parent.

"While our company recognizes the goals of House Bill 1, we believe this bill, as currently drafted, not only fails to empower parents to make the decision regarding whether their teen may use a social media platform but also fails to create robust, industry-wide standards that help parents and teens manage their online activity,” said Caulder Harvill-Childs, public policy manager for Meta.
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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.
Adrian Andrews