DeSantis Signs One Of The Country's Strictest Bans On Kids' Social Media Use

The sweeping new law is expected to face First Amendment challenges in court.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Monday signed one of the country’s strictest laws cracking down on minors’ access to social media, setting up a likely First Amendment challenge from the companies that host those platforms.

The new law will take effect Jan. 1 of next year and bans social media accounts for all children under 14 and requires that 15- and 16-year-olds get parental consent to have accounts. Social media platforms will be required to terminate accounts in violation of the law.

At a signing ceremony in Jacksonville, DeSantis said that social media has given predatory adults a tool to undermine parents’ efforts to protect their kids.

“Unfortunately, we’ve got predators who prey on young kids. It used to be, ‘Well, if they’re out somewhere, maybe they’re not being supervised, maybe some predator can strike.’ Now, with things like social media and all this, you can have a kid in the house safe, seemingly, and then you have predators that can get right in there, into your own home,” DeSantis said. “You could be doing everything right, but they know how to get and manipulate these different platforms.”

The proposal was brought forth by Florida Republican Speaker Paul Renner, who said the legislation was his top priority this session.

“A child in their brain development doesn’t have the ability to know that they’re being sucked into these addictive technologies and to see the harm and step away from it, and because of that, we have to step in for them,” Renner said at the ceremony.

A 2022 review of dozens of studies found that children who use social media for several hours a day face an increased risk of cyberbullying and online grooming, and that unrestricted use of the platforms may expose children to unwanted sexual material. However, research on the topic is still limited.

The Florida House gave the bill its final approval earlier this month with a 109-4 vote. Opponents pointed out that courts have already blocked similar laws in other states and that the bill’s passage would only lead to an expensive legal battle.

“I don’t think we should spend more public dollars on lawsuits in this state where we know these bills are inherently unconstitutional,” Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani said earlier this month.

Free speech and other advocacy groups have already hinted at lawsuit plans. On March 3, a coalition of groups sent a letter to the Florida legislature urging them to block the proposal.

“Outright banning minors from social media sites does not address the potential harm they may encounter on social media sites but instead prohibits them from sharing and engaging in constitutionally protected speech,” Katie Blankenship, director of PEN America Florida ― one of the groups to sign the letter ― said in a statement advocating for a more nuanced approach.

The letter, which was signed by some LGBTQ+ groups, also warned that an outright ban would “deprive Florida’s youth of vital resources, educational engagement, support networks, and opportunities for personal and academic growth.”

But lawmakers across multiple levels of government remain concerned about social media’s effect on children. In January, the Senate Judiciary Committee called upon several social media CEOs to testify before Congress at a hearing about online safety for minors. Among them was Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who ultimately apologized to parents who say his social media platforms played a role in their child’s death or abuse.

“I’m sorry for everything you’ve all gone through,” Zuckerberg said. “It’s terrible. No one should have to go through the things that your families have suffered.”

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