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/ CBS/News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE – Pointing to children’s mental health and online sexual predators, the Florida House on Wednesday passed a bill that seeks to prevent children under age 16 from having social media accounts.
The House voted 106-13 to approve the measure (HB 1), a priority of House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast. The issue will go to the Senate, amid arguments from parts of the tech industry that the bill would be unconstitutional.
“This is about protecting children from addictive technology and what we know harms them,” Renner told House members after the vote. “And what the social media platforms know. For years, they have known this and they have failed to act. By your vote today, we have done so.”
Lawmakers said children have suffered mental health problems because of such things as bullying on social media. They also said the technology makes children targets for sexual predators.
“The truth is, people use these platforms to prey on our children,” Rep. Kevin Chambliss, D-Homestead, said.
Opponents questioned the bill’s constitutionality and said it would take away the rights of parents to determine whether their children use social media. Thirteen Democrats voted against the bill, while 23 Democrats joined Republicans in supporting it.
Rep. Daryl Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, called the bill a “complete governmental overreach.”
“Parents should have the ultimate decision-making ability for their child,” Rep. Ashley Gantt, D-Miami, said. “I 100 percent agree with the bill sponsors’ position of making sure that we protect children. I 100 percent agree. But it should not come at the cost of parents being able to make the ultimate decision in how they raise their child.”
The bill would prevent minors under 16 from creating social media accounts and would require social media platforms to terminate existing accounts that are “reasonably known” by the platforms to be held by children younger than 16. It also would allow parents to request that minors’ accounts be terminated.
The bill would require platforms to use independent organizations to conduct age verifications when new accounts are created and would require the denial of accounts for people who do not verify their ages. The organizations would be required to delete the data after ages are verified.
Meta, the parent company of platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, and NetChoice, a tech industry group, last week criticized the proposal and raised the possibility that it would be challenged in court.
NetChoice posted testimony on its website that said the bill has “constitutional flaws.” It said federal courts have blocked similar social-media restrictions in other states.
“If passed, HB 1 would violate minors’ First Amendment rights by imposing a blanket restriction on access to constitutionally protected speech for anyone who is either under the age of 16 or refuses to comply with the law’s age-verification requirements,” the industry group said. “The fact that HB 1 covers the internet rather than books, television programs, or video games, does not change the First Amendment issue.”
But Renner, an attorney, told reporters that the bill doesn’t violate the First Amendment. He said the bill is directed toward “addictive technology,” not content.
“This is why we’ve narrowly defined it, because It’s a situation in which kids can’t stay off the platforms, and as a result of that, they have been trapped in an environment that is harming their mental health,” Renner said.
The Senate version of the bill (SB 1788) has not started moving through committees as lawmakers near the end of the third week of the 60-day legislative session.
Also Wednesday, the House unanimously passed another Renner priority (HB 3) that would require age verification to try to prevent minors under age 18 from having access to online pornography.
The bill would set a series of standards for determining whether online material would be harmful, such as whether it “appeals to the prurient interest” and “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.”
The CBS Miami team is a group of experienced journalists who bring you the content on CBSMiami.com.
First published on January 25, 2024 / 6:59 AM EST
© 2024 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.
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