Florida House OKs bill to force kids off social media

ORLANDO, Fla. – Fun is how Rene, 12, describes using social media. She told News 6 that’s how she likes to spend her time when she’s not with friends.

“Yes, I do, (use it) not during school but when I get home I’m on Pinterest, Tik Tok, Wattpad reading,” she said.

But a new Florida bill could change that. HB 1 would restrict teens under 16 from using social media, banning them from creating new accounts and forcing those with existing accounts off platforms.

Lawmakers in the Florida House passed HB 1 Wednesday afternoon with a bipartisan vote of 106-13. The bill is a priority for Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast.

“This is about protecting children from addictive technology and what we know harms them, and what the social media platforms know,” Renner said after the vote. “For years, they have known this and they have failed to act, and by your vote today, we have done so.”

The bill does not name specific social media platforms, but defines them as doing all of the following:

  • Tracks the activity of the account holder

  • Allows the account holder to upload content or view the content or activity of other account holders

  • Allows an account holder to interact with or track other account holders

  • Utilizes addictive, harmful, or deceptive design features, or any feature that is designed to cause an account holder to have an excessive or compulsive need to use or engage with the social media platform

  • Allows the utilization of information derived from the social media platform’s tracking of the activity of an account holder to control or target at least part of the content offered to the account holder

Supporters say the bill protects minors from the negative impacts of social media on their mental health, and also from being victims of cyberbullying and sexual traffickers.

“I do think it causes depression. I do think it causes too much — it causes insecurity,” parent Natasha Herring told News 6.

Rene’s mother, Erica Carcagente, said it should be up to parents to decide the use of social media when it comes to their children.

[RELATED: How to contact your Florida lawmakers]

“I feel like up to the decision of the parents. I have no idea how they are going to control something like that because kids can always get on and just lie about their birthday anyway, so I have no idea how something like that could be controlled,” Carcagente said.

The bill requires social media platforms to use an independent nongovernmental method for age verification that is not associated with the social media platform.

Social media platforms that violate the bill could face penalties of up to $50,000 per violation.

A Florida Democrat proposed an amendment to the bill that would allow parents to give permission for their children to be on social media Tuesday. That amendment failed.

Critics say they respect the need to protect children on social media, they just feel the bill goes too far and doesn’t take into account the positive experiences young people can have, especially those who feel marginalized.

“I was 13 years old when my mom passed away to cancer, it was 20 years ago today,” said State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando. “The environment I was able to find online was so incredibly comforting…social media was a friend group for me. I was able to meet people going through similar situations as I was.”

News 6 spoke to Dr. Monica Barreto, Clinical Director of Behavioral Health for Nemours Children’s Health. Barreto said she is seeing the biggest impact of social media on sleep and time management in school.

“I would say more teenagers 15, 16, 17. The younger kids use it but not so much, it’s more video games that they are using more often. So even then, it is the older teens that are working on sleep, school management, putting our phones down, working doing our homework, and then giving yourself that free time. So, a lot of procrastination with the use of social media,” Barreto said.

The bill also requires social media platforms to include a disclaimer on log-in screens for users who are 16 or 17 years old that says the following:

Nemours has a guide for parents on helping their kids use social media responsibly on its website.

The bill does not say which platforms were at fault, and a similar bill in the Senate (SB 1788) has not come up for any votes yet.

Meanwhile another bill to regarding age verification for websites, HB 3, passed unanimously in the Florida House Wednesday. The bill would require websites that publish or distribute material considered harmful to minors to provide more comprehensive age verification software. The age verification system must be conducted by an independent third party not affiliated with the site’s parent company or the government.

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