“These dopamine hits [from social media] are so addictive, it’s like a digital fentanyl,” said state Rep. Fiona McFarland.
Florida’s legislation appears to be stronger than laws that passed in other states recently such as Utah, where a new policy requires social media companies to receive parental consent before minors under 18 can open or maintain an account. | Manan Vatsyayana/AFP via Getty Images
By Andrew Atterbury
TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Florida’s Republican-led House overwhelmingly passed legislation Wednesday that would create some of the strictest social media prohibitions in the country by cutting off anyone under 16 years old from many platforms.
Still pending approval in the Senate, the proposal is a top priority of Republican Speaker Paul Renner on his conservative agenda to safeguard children in the state alongside a bill curbing access to adult websites, which lawmakers also passed Wednesday.
The social media restrictions would put Florida in line with several other states attempting to crackdown on minors using “addictive” apps they consider harmful to mental health but may also open the state up to an eventual lawsuit from major tech firms.
“These dopamine hits [from social media] are so addictive, it’s like a digital fentanyl,” state Rep. Fiona McFarland, a Republican from Sarasota and co-sponsor of the legislation, said on the House floor Wednesday. “And even the most plugged-in parent or attuned teen has a hard time shutting the door against these addictive features.”
The social media legislation, FL HB1 (24R), would require many platforms to prohibit anyone younger than 16 from creating an account and require them to use a third party for age verification services. At the same time, it calls on social media companies to terminate accounts for users in the state under 16.
Florida’s proposal notably would not apply to websites that are predominantly used for email, messaging or texts, along with streaming services, news, sports or entertainment sites, and online shopping or gaming. Still, the legislation has caused confusion about which companies would be covered under the law.
In an attempt to clarify what apps are actually targeted, lawmakers on Tuesday added new language outlawing platforms with “addictive, harmful, or deceptive design features” that are meant to grab users and keep them engaged.
These definitions proved too weak for some Democrats, leading to questions surrounding the fate of specific platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube. Officials with Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, claim the amendment only muddied the legal waters of the bill and believe the company would fall outside its scope.
Lawmakers carrying the bill, meanwhile, have refused to name a single social media app that would be banned under the proposal, saying during a Tuesday floor session that they were “not going to get into specific companies.”
“What this legislation is drawing attention to is that these features being deployed are addictive in nature,” state Rep. Tyler Sirois, a Republican from Merritt Island and co-sponsor of the bill, said on the House floor Tuesday. “They are stimulating a chemical reaction in our kids to keep them hooked and to keep them coming back for more — and manipulating their behaviors.”
Republican leaders in Florida contend the social media restrictions are meant to curb serious issues plaguing children across the state, including cases of bullying, depression, social pressure and even suicide tied to accessing social media. The legislation would open the door for parents to take legal action against social media companies that don’t take down children’s accounts, including the possibility of landing up to $10,000 in damages and court fees.
But opponents have slammed the legislation for not giving parents more of a say in the decision. They contend a wholesale social media ban would restrict access to friendships and resources that many children and teens hold dear, possibly even causing minors who earn money as influencers to lose out.
In one effort to scale back the bill, a Democrat attempted to flip past Republican arguments supporting parental rights against them.
“My concern is the government telling parents how to parent their child and taking away the complete ability for them to make that decision,” said Democratic Rep. Ashley Gantt of Miami, who filed an unsuccessful amendment seeking parental approval for minors to access social media.
Top Republicans like Renner, though, have swatted down those concerns and want to put all minors on the same level through blanket social media restrictions.
“If we just let parents decide on this one, parents are going to be harangued so much because it makes a kid ostracized not to be on social media,” Renner told reporters earlier last week.
Florida’s legislation appears to be stronger than laws that passed in other states recently, such as Utah, where a new policy requires social media companies to receive parental consent before minors under 18 can open or maintain an account.
Utah’s social media regulations, set to take effect in October, are being challenged in court by a trade group associated with Meta, TikTok and X that claims the law violates First Amendment free expression rights. That same trade group, NetChoice, opposes the Florida proposal and claims it is “unconstitutional and, if enacted, would be swiftly struck down” under federal free speech protections — possible foreshadowing for a legal battle to come.
The House on Wednesday also passed another leadership priority bill, FL HB3 (24R), targeting the ability of minors to access websites featuring adult content. This proposal requires websites that publish materials “harmful to minors” to take “reasonable” steps to verify age to prevent anyone younger than 18 from accessing them. Similarly to the social media bill, the age-verification measures must be led by a third-party entity.
Several states, including Louisiana, Arkansas, Montana, Mississippi, Utah, Virginia and Texas, have backed age-verification laws, which have become one of the more popular bipartisan policies in the country while also creating havoc in a porn industry that many had considered all but impossible to actually regulate.
Legislators passed the social media legislation 106-13, with a few Democrats voting against; the adult websites bill was approved unanimously.
While these bills have not been heard in the Senate, leaders previously signaled support for the ideas.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct when Utah’s social media regulations will take effect.
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