Florida kids aged 13 and under banned from social media under new bill

Florida’s Governor signs a controversial bill that bans children aged 13 and under from becoming social media account holders – critics say the government is overreaching in an attempt at ‘digital parenting.’

The bill – dubbed HB 3 – will also require 14-and 15-year-olds to get parental consent to open a social media account.

“Social media harms children in a variety of ways. HB 3 gives parents a greater ability to protect their children,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said in a statement on the signing.

The measure is aimed at protecting children from the harms of social media, including the risks to mental health, say proponents of the bill.

HB3 specifically requires social media platforms to terminate accounts of those 13 and under and prohibit the same age group from entering into contracts to become account holders.

The bill would additionally require the social media platforms to permanently delete all personal information associated with the terminated account unless legal requirements prevented otherwise.

“The internet has become a dark alley for our children where predators target them and dangerous social media leads to higher rates of depression, self-harm, and even suicide,” said Florida’s House Speaker and Republican Paul Renner.

Governor DeSantis, also a republican, thanked Renner for playing an integral part in crafting the legislation, which would take effect January 1st, 2025.

What's in the bill?

Social media platforms in violation of the bill would be subject to civil investigations and penalties under Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. Parents would also be able to take civil action against a platform if their child’s data was not deleted.

The bill did not single out or name a particular platform, but gave a broad definition to include any online forum, website, or application with such characteristics as having:

  • The ability for users to upload content or view the content of other users,
  • 10% under the age of 16 using the platform daily for more than 2 hours,
  • algorithms that analyze user data to select content for those users.

Furthermore, the platforms would also have to employ addictive features such as:

  • Infinite scrolling,
  • continuous loading of content,
  • Push notifications or alerts,
  • Displays personal interactive metrics,
  • Auto-play video,
  • live-streaming or live-broadcasting capabilities.

The bill, passed March 25th in its fifth iteration, was vetoed in early March by DeSantis over limiting parental rights. That version would have banned all users 16 and under.

Supporters of the bill state that the increased use of social media in our society is tied to the “increase in rates of depression, anxiety, and stress in adolescents.” They also say that many adolescents are overly exposed to pornography online.

Critics cite free speech

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is a member of the internet trade association NetChoice, along with other social media giants X and TikTok, plus dozens of other online platforms. NetChoice claims its mission "is to make the internet safe for free enterprise and free expression."

The coalition and other critics of HB3 argue it violates the First Amendment right to free speech, for not only the teens, but for parents as well.

An analysis prepared for the bill states that in March 2023, Utah became the first US state to adopt laws regulating children's access to social media, with other state governments contemplating the same.

Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio and Texas, have also passed similar legislation to protect minors, but none have gone onto effect yet.

NetChoice, who filed a suit in January against Ohio’s Social Media Parental Notification Act, argues that the bill “violates constitutional rights and rips away a parent’s authority to care for their child as they find appropriate.”

“We at NetChoice believe families equipped with educational resources are capable of determining the best approach to online services and privacy protections for themselves,” Chris Marchese, Director of the NetChoice Litigation Center, says. The group sent a veto request laying out its concerns to Governor DeSantis on March 7th.

Although Meta has said it supports federal legislation for online app stores to secure parental approval for downloads by children, it opposes the legislation.

The group says in the end, the bill would create new data privacy issues due to the third-party age verification system used to prove consent – which could include the uploading of photo IDs and/or the use of facial scans.

In January, Meta introduced its own safety features for its platforms geared towards keeping teens safer online, including enhanced parental supervision features and stricter default messaging settings for teens 16 and under (18 in some countries) that automatically block messages from anyone they are not connected to.

Exempt from the HB3 bill are those platforms, websites, or applications with email, messaging, or texting between two users as its main function.

Other components of the bill will require age verification for pornographic or sexually explicit websites, as well as allow all state residents to remain anonymous online.

In 2023, an estimated 4.9 billion people worldwide used social media, according to the analysis, with more than one in three teens ages 13 to 17 reporting they use social media “almost constantly,” the analysis stated.

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