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Florida Bill Narrows Kids Social Media Ban

On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a ban on social media for kids under 16 and lawmakers introduced new legislation that would let 14- and 15-year-olds access social media with a parent’s consent. The ban would still apply to children 13 and under.

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(TNS) — Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a ban on social media for kids under 16 on Friday, voicing support instead for a new, toned-down version to be taken up Monday in the final week of the legislative session.

Instead of blocking all kids under 16, new legislation introduced Friday would allow 14- and 15-year-olds to access social media with a parent’s consent. Kids 13 and under would still be banned.

And adults and kids would no longer have to prove their age — through a facial scan or turning over an ID — to use social media, likely avoiding a constitutional hurdle.

Shortly after issuing his veto, DeSantis posted on social media that he did so “because the Legislature is about to produce a different, superior bill.”

“Protecting children from harms associated with social media is important, as is supporting parents’ rights and maintaining the ability of adults to engage in anonymous speech,” DeSantis added on X, formerly known as Twitter.

House Speaker Paul Renner, R- Palm Coast, said it was “a good product of compromise.”

“We believe that we started out with a very, very good bill,” Renner said. “And now this bill is even better.”

The unusual legislative maneuvering late in session provided a way for both DeSantis and Renner to save face on one of the speaker’s top priorities.

Pointing to rising rates of teen suicide and depression, Renner said keeping kids off social media was imperative, often comparing it to fentanyl and other deadly drugs.

“Their business model is addiction that causes harm to children for profit,” he said Friday.

Renner essentially dared DeSantis to veto the bill last week, when the speaker rushed House Bill 1 off the floor just hours after DeSantis said it still had “legitimate issues” that needed to be worked out.

One of those issues was that it didn’t allow parents to override the bill and permit their kids to use social media, seemingly flying in the face of the parental rights movement that DeSantis has championed.

Renner previously said that allowing parents to override the ban would be a “poison pill” to the courts. It could be difficult to win a lawsuit if the state said social media was so harmful to kids it should be banned but that parents were allowed to expose their kids to it, Renner had said.

On Friday, he said his opinion changed after hearing from lawyers.

Moms for Liberty, which raised concerns about the original legislation removing the rights of parents, applauded DeSantis on Friday for stepping “up to the plate to fight for parental rights.”

“Parents should be the ones who can decide if their child is mature enough or ready to navigate the dangers of social media,” the organization’s Florida legislative chairperson, Jamie Merchant, said in a statement.

House Bill 1 could have changed how nearly every Floridian uses the Internet.

Kids 15 and younger would have been prevented from using social media sites that have “addicting” features, such as push alerts and auto-playing videos.

Adults would have had to prove their age through methods such as submitting a facial scan or government documents before using social media or adult websites.

Instead of age verification, the new legislation, House Bill 3, requires social media companies to automatically delete accounts that it categorizes as belonging to someone younger than 14. People under 14 would be prevented from creating an account.

Parents would also have to be allowed to request social media companies remove their kids’ accounts.

To enforce the requirements, the new legislation leans on the attorney general’s office to pursue action against social media companies.

The new legislation still requires adult websites to employ third-party age verification software to screen out users under 18. The software would have to keep each user’s information anonymous.

Renner said he’s “inviting” a court challenge on the constitutionality of age verification requirements.

The legislation could still be tied up in the courts. California, Utah, Ohio and Arkansas passed similar bans on kids using social media last year, but none has taken effect.

Federal judges in three of the states have stopped the legislation from taking effect over concerns the bans violate kids’ free speech rights and that age verifications are unconstitutional. In Utah, lawmakers have delayed implementing the bill amid legal concerns.

Netchoice, which represents the largest social media platforms, including Meta, TikTok and X, has sued to stop other states’ bans.

On Friday, the organization applauded DeSantis for vetoing HB 1 but came out against HB 3.

“HB 3 is still I.D. for the Internet, and NetChoice calls on Gov. DeSantis to oppose it, too,” it wrote on X.

©2024 Tampa Bay Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.