Florida Passes Law Banning Children Younger Than 16 From Using Social Media

The bill also bans social platforms from displaying harmful content to minors, including patently offensive sexual conduct.
Florida Passes Law Banning Children Younger Than 16 From Using Social Media
(Oriana Zhang/The Epoch Times)

Florida’s Legislature passed comprehensive legislation that prohibits children younger than 16 in the state from having accounts on social media platforms.

The bill would prohibit anyone younger than 16 from registering a social media account, terminate existing accounts of underage users, and require some social media platforms to verify people’s ages when they sign up for accounts.

The House members passed the bill with bipartisan support in a 108–7 vote on Feb. 22. Earlier in the day, the Senate had approved the legislation by a 2314 vote, with five Republicans opposing the measure and two Democrats voting in favor.
The bill is now heading to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s desk to either sign or veto it. Mr. DeSantis previously questioned the measure for not letting more authority rest with parents. He said he believes that social media is harmful for children but that parents could supervise children’s use of it, and he said he was wary of a policy that would “overrule” parents.

“You’ve got to strike that proper balance when you are looking at these things between a policy that is helping parents get to where they want to go versus a policy that may be outright overruling parents,” Mr. DeSantis said in a press conference on Feb. 22.

“I’m a critic of social media, but I have to look at this from a parent’s perspective.”

The bill also bans social platforms from displaying harmful content to minors, including patently offensive sexual conduct. It also allows parents of minors to request termination of their children’s accounts. The measure asserts that any social media platform accessible in Florida falls under the jurisdiction of state courts.

Supporters have said that the legislation would stem the harmful effects of social media on the well-being of children who use such platforms excessively and may experience anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses as a result.

Critics have said that the bill violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protections of free speech and that parents, not the government, should make decisions about their children’s online presence.

According to the 2023 U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Social Media and Youth Mental Health, social media has negative and positive effects on children. The advisory found that up to 95 percent of young Americans aged 13 to 17 use a social media platform.

“While social media may have benefits for some children and adolescents, there are ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents,” the advisory reads.

Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, has opposed the legislation, saying it would limit parental discretion and raise data privacy concerns because of the personal information that users would have to provide to be age-verified. Meta has stated that it supports federal legislation for online app stores to secure parental approval for downloads by people younger than 16.

In October 2023, attorneys general from more than 40 states sued Meta, accusing the company of “knowingly damaging” children’s mental health and misleading the public regarding safety concerns.

The bill does not name any specific social media platforms but states that its targets are social media sites that promote “infinite scrolling,” auto-play videos, include live-streaming, send push notifications, and display reaction metrics such as likes. Websites and apps whose main function is email, messaging, or texting between a particular sender and recipient would be exempt.

The bill would require social media companies to permanently delete personal information collected from terminated accounts and let parents bring civil lawsuits against those that fail to do so.

In March 2023, Utah became the first U.S. state to adopt laws regulating children’s access to social media, followed by others, including Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio, and Texas, according to a legislative analysis prepared for the Florida bill. The analysis states that numerous other states were contemplating similar regulations.

Reuters contributed to this report.