In a bold move, the Florida House is on the verge of passing a bill that aims to protect children under the age of 16 from the perils of social media. However, the tech industry has raised concerns about the constitutionality of the measure and its potential impact on data privacy. The bill, known as HB 1, received a favorable vote of 17-5 from the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, solidifying its position for a vote in the full House.
Speaker Paul Renner, a Republican from Palm Coast, has championed the bill as a means to address the harm caused to children by social media platforms. Under the proposed legislation, minors under the age of 16 would be prohibited from creating accounts on these platforms. Additionally, social media companies would be required to terminate existing accounts held by minors under 16 that are known to the platforms. Parents would also have the ability to request the termination of their child’s account.
Co-sponsoring the bill, Representative Fiona McFarland, a Republican from Sarasota, emphasized the negative impact of social media on children’s mental health, stating that the harms outweigh any potential benefits. However, critics argue that parents should have the authority to decide whether their children can use social media. Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and NetChoice, a tech industry group, have both voiced their opposition to the bill.
Meta’s public policy manager, Caulder Harvill-Childs, expressed concern that the bill fails to empower parents to make decisions regarding their teenagers’ social media usage. Harvill-Childs further emphasized the need for industry-wide standards to assist parents and teenagers in managing their online activities. NetChoice echoed these sentiments, citing constitutional flaws in the bill and highlighting that similar social media restrictions have been blocked by federal courts in other states.
Despite the criticism, Representative Tyler Sirois, a Republican from Merritt Island and co-sponsor of the bill, emphasized the compelling state interest in protecting children from the addictive features and harmful content prevalent on social media platforms. He stressed the establishment of a clear line, recognizing that these platforms are not suitable for minors under the age of 16.
The proposed legislation also includes provisions for age verification during the creation of new accounts. Independent organizations would be responsible for conducting these verifications, with the requirement to delete the data once the ages have been verified. While Meta raised concerns about data privacy and constitutionality, Sirois argued that technological advancements have made age verification feasible.
If passed, the bill would grant the attorney general the ability to file civil lawsuits alleging unfair and deceptive trade practices for violations of the law, potentially resulting in fines for social media platforms. Additionally, on the same day, the Judiciary Committee unanimously approved another bill (HB 3) that would implement age verification measures to prevent individuals under the age of 18 from accessing explicit content online.
The bill, another priority for Speaker Renner, sets standards for determining the harmful nature of online materials, considering factors such as appeal to prurient interest and lack of serious value for minors in literary, artistic, political, or scientific aspects.
As the Florida House prepares to vote on these bills, the clash between concerns for child safety and the protection of constitutional rights and data privacy continues to be a point of contention. The outcome of these legislative efforts will undoubtedly impact the future of social media regulation in the state.