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Watered-down social-media ban for teens advancing as FL Legislature winds down

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Watered-down social-media ban for teens advancing as FL Legislature winds down

Mar 04, 2024 | 12:23 pm ET
By Michael Moline
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Watered-down social-media ban for teens advancing as FL Legislature winds down
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Credit: Getty Images

Compromise legislation banning social media access to children under 13 years old but allowing it with parental supervision for 13- and 14-year-olds and freely to those above 16 is advancing through the Florida Legislature at its annual session winds down.

Watered-down social-media ban for teens advancing as FL Legislature winds down
Erin Grall. Credit: Florida Senate

The bill (HB 3) is more lenient than an earlier version, which would have cut off access at age 16, with parental consent or not. However, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed that version after winning agreement from House and Senate leaders on the compromise.

The Senate OK’d the new language Monday on a bipartisan vote of 30-5. The measure is on the House calendar but it was unclear when that chamber would take it up. The Legislature is set to adjourn on Friday, March 8.

Senate bill sponsor Erin Grall, a Republican representing a district centered on Fort Pierce, warned that platforms steer kids to content about suicide and self-harm, eating disorders, and other problem behavior, Grall said.

“Eighty-two percent of online sex crimes against minors started when the perpetrator used a social networking site to gain information and introduction. Senators, I would say we have to do something and we can’t stand by any longer and allow them, these companies, to own our children with this terrible content,” Grall said.

Objectionable material

Democrat Tina Polsky, representing parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, observed that children will still have access to objectional material through other means online.

Watered-down social-media ban for teens advancing as FL Legislature winds down
Tina Polsky. Credit: Florida Senate

“I don’t see much of a difference between 13- and 14-year-olds. I just think it’s arbitrary,” she said.

“It should be up to me whether or not that’s an issue. I pay for a phone, for a computer, an iPad, whatever the case may be, and so I get to control that. For the government to come and say, no, we’ve decided the age is 14, I still think runs into all the constitutional problems we discussed and the general issue of parents making the decision,” Polsky said.

However, Democrat Rosalind Osgood, representing Broward County, noted that some children don’t have parents available or willing to monitor their safety online.

“Evil people” prey on children through social media “by using cartoon characters and other things to entice them for money and lure them,” Osgood said. “Any way that we can provide any kind of safety and regulation to help safeguard and protect any child is what we should be doing.”

Revised language

The revised bill drops language requiring platforms to verify teenagers’ ages in favor of authorizing prosecution by the attorney general’s office or civil lawsuits.

It exempts platforms that don’t subject users to “engagement” features calculated to keep them online, including algorithms and “like” buttons.

Other provisions require platforms that allow people access to “material harmful to minors,” defined as appealing to “prurient interest” as established by “contemporary community standards,” to apply a “reasonable age verification method” conducted “by a nongovernmental, independent, third-party not affiliated with the commercial entity” to ensure they are at least 18 years old.

Covered material would include “patently offensive” sexual material that “when taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.” It contains penalties equivalent to those in the social media bill.