Florida Senators Merge Bills to Restrict Social Media and Enforce Age Verification

A Florida Senate panel has recently made significant changes to a bill that aims to restrict children under the age of 16 from using social media platforms. The debate surrounding the proposal’s constitutionality and potential infringement on parental rights continues to be a point of contention. House Speaker Paul Renner, a Republican from Palm Coast, has prioritized the bill (HB 1), arguing that children’s mental health is being negatively impacted by social media.

The Senate Fiscal Policy Committee, with Renner’s support, approved a series of revisions to the bill, paving the way for it to be considered by the full Senate. Senator Rosalind Osgood, a Democrat from Fort Lauderdale, expressed her belief that action must be taken to protect children, stating, “I believe we were wrong to just turn our kids over to social media.” The committee voted 12-5 in favor of the bill.

However, opponents of the bill argue that similar laws in other states have been struck down by courts, and that parents should have the final say in determining whether their children can use social media platforms. Senator Shevrin Jones, a Democrat from Miami Gardens, stated, “It is not the Legislature’s job to parent the parents in how they parent.”

The revised version of the bill, which was overwhelmingly passed by the House last month, maintains its core components. It would prohibit children under the age of 16 from creating accounts on certain social media platforms and require platforms to terminate existing accounts held by minors under 16, if they have knowledge or reason to believe the user is underage. Additionally, it would allow parents to request the termination of their child’s social media accounts.

The bill also includes provisions that would require independent organizations to conduct age verifications for new accounts and deny accounts to individuals who fail to verify their age. These organizations would be required to delete the data after age verification. Furthermore, the revised bill introduces changes to the criteria for determining which platforms are subject to these restrictions. This criteria includes factors such as algorithms, “addictive features,” and the ability for users to view the content and activities of other users.

For instance, the new criteria approved by the committee on Thursday would encompass platforms with “10% or more of daily active users younger than 16 years of age spending, on average, 2 hours per day on the online forum, website, or application.” Senator Erin Grall, a Republican from Vero Beach and the bill’s sponsor, acknowledged that it is difficult to determine how many platforms will be affected by the proposal. However, she emphasized that the bill is “content neutral” and focuses on the features of platforms that exploit and addict children.

In a notable turn of events, the committee merged the bill with another measure that seeks to prevent minors under the age of 18 from accessing online pornographic sites through age verification. Both bills were initially passed separately by the House.

The proposed social media restrictions have faced opposition from tech industry organizations and First Amendment groups, who argue that they would lead to censorship and violate constitutional rights. Governor Ron DeSantis has also expressed concerns about the constitutionality of the restrictions.

Furthermore, the bill has sparked discussions in the Legislature regarding parental rights, which have been emphasized by Republicans in other areas. Senators Jay Collins from Tampa and Jay Trumbull from Panama City, both Republicans, voted in favor of the bill but expressed their struggles with potential infringements on parental decision-making. Collins shared that he was “very torn on this bill.”

While 11 Republicans, including Senator Osgood, supported the bill, five Democrats opposed it. The outcome of the bill remains uncertain as it progresses through the legislative process.

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