Florida Senate votes to ban kids under 16 from social media platforms

Parents still don’t have a say in the issue, which Gov. Ron DeSantis has flagged as a problem

South Florida Sun Sentinel | By Jim Saunders News Service of Florida | February 22, 2024

TALLAHASSEE — Amid a debate about the role of government and parental rights, the Florida Senate on Thursday passed a bill that seeks to keep children under the age of 16 off social-media platforms.

The Senate voted 23-14 to approve the bill (HB 1), which includes preventing children under 16 from creating accounts on at least some social-media platforms without giving parents any say in the matter.

The issue is a priority of House Speaker Paul Renner, with supporters saying social media harms children’s mental health and exposes them to sexual predators. The House passed the bill last month but will have to take another vote because of changes made in the Senate.

“We’re talking about businesses that are using addictive features to engage in mass manipulation of our children to cause them harm,” Senate sponsor Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, said before the Senate vote.

Opponents described the bill as “government overreach” and said parents should make decisions about whether children use social media.

“Parenting is very difficult, but that doesn’t mean that the government needs to step in,” Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said.

Opponents also argued that courts would rule that the bill is unconstitutional, as judges have blocked similar laws in other states. Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Sunny Isles Beach, described it as taking a “miracle” for the bill to be found constitutional.

“This will be overturned in a court of law, even by those (judges) at the state level appointed by the governor and even those at the federal level appointed by President Trump,” said Pizzo, an attorney.

During an appearance Thursday in Lake Buena Vista, Gov. Ron DeSantis raised concerns about parental rights and pointed to the bill affecting 14- and 15-year-old minors.

“I think, net, it’s harmful for them to be on some of those platforms that have certain functionality that is addictive. I agree with that,” DeSantis said. “But I also believe that parents need to have a role in this.”

DeSantis later added, “I don’t think it (the bill) is there yet. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get there in a way that, I think, answers the concerns that a lot of folks have.”

While many major issues in the Republican-controlled Legislature are decided along party lines, the bill drew Republican and Democratic support — and Republican and Democratic opposition.

Democrats Rosalind Osgood of Fort Lauderdale and Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg joined 21 Republicans in voting for the bill. Republicans Bryan Avila of Miami Springs, Jennifer Bradley of Fleming Island, Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill, Jonathan Martin of Fort Myers and Jay Trumbull of Panama City joined nine Democrats in opposing it. Three senators were absent.

Along with preventing children under 16 from creating accounts on at least some social-media platforms, the bill would require platforms to terminate existing accounts that they know or have “reason to believe” are held by minors younger than 16 and allow parents to request that minors’ accounts be terminated.

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