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Florida Bill to Regulate Social Media Use in School

Pending the governor’s signature, Florida House Bill 379 will require school districts to prohibit students from accessing social media platforms during school and develop curricula on social media safety.

Rows of social media apps on a screen including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Elizabeth Rasnick, an assistant cybersecurity professor at University of West Florida, compares social media use in schools to the early era of automobiles: Streets and highways, whether gravel or dirt, varied in width and condition, as did the tires that traveled them 100 years ago. Safety and effectiveness could not be predicted or assured because there was no standardization in place.

Likewise, Rasnick said, the risk and functionality of Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok, Discord and other platforms popular with young people that have been used in the classroom is difficult to gauge even though the technology has enormous potential for instruction.

“It’s really the same learning curve right now,” she said in an interview Wednesday with Government Technology. “These tools are relatively new.”

Rasnick called a proposed piece of legislation in Florida banning K-12 public classroom social media use “a stopgap measure” that gives policymakers time to figure out how schools can manage and control it.

House Bill 379 has passed both houses of the Florida Legislature and will take effect on July 1 if Gov. Ron DeSantis signs it into law. The legislation also requires the state education department to develop and publish a social media safety curriculum for all public schools.

The Florida bill identified the advantages of social media use in schools as career and resume building for future academic or employment opportunities, sharing information with family and friends, and safely connecting with other users with similar interests. The identified risks include social media addiction, publication of misinformation, negative effects on mental health, and the permanent nature of content posted to social media.

Florida is not alone in attempting to address these problems with legislation. In Utah, the state Legislature recently passed a law that requires parental consent for social media users under 18. It also sets a curfew for those users, preventing them from accessing the platforms between 10:30 p.m. until 6:30 a.m. This law, however, does not take effect until March 2024.

It’s easy to find the tragic stories: cyber bullying, terrorist threats, hate speech, sexual predators and leaked classified documents to an audience that included high school gamers. The positive uses of social media in classrooms are less known but can include students displaying their visual arts projects on Instagram, social studies classes accessing Twitter to discuss current events, or student leaders organizing new school clubs or study groups on Discord, Rasnick said.

As for TikTok, she added, the only social media platform in the Florida legislation mentioned by name, “you’d have to work hard to find any educational benefits for it.”

In her previous career as a high school math and computer science teacher, Rasnick recalled that Facebook, though not popular with young people, was often used as a tool for teaching younger students about stranger danger. The older kids were already familiar with Discord because it was popular for gaming. She said the problem with that platform was its extensive variety of channels, which made it easier for bullying.

“For Discord, it’s difficult for schools because everyone [faculty and staff] is already overwhelmed. You can’t monitor it. Social media was a classroom management nightmare for teachers,” Rasnick said. “It gave the students a chance to be preoccupied with anything other than what they are supposed to be paying attention to.”

In the New York state Legislature, a bill was introduced earlier this year calling for a statewide social media safety curriculum, though no further actions on it are currently scheduled. That bill notes that one suburban Buffalo school district has already incorporated its own measures promoting social media awareness.

Rasnick presumes legislators and policymakers across the country are watching Florida closely with the idea of school social media use standardization in mind.

“I think social media will be incorporated into the classroom at some point,” she said. “I think the hope is to identify appropriate uses, figure out management and control, get parents to buy into it, and make sure the standards of learning are there.”
Aaron Gifford has several years of professional writing experience, primarily with daily newspapers and specialty publications in upstate New York. He attended the University at Buffalo and is based in Cazenovia, NY.