Florida lawmakers passed a bill on Feb. 22 that would ban minors from accessing social media platforms. PIXABAY

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a bill that would ban minors from accessing certain social media platforms. The announcement came on March 1 as the governor said he expects the legislature to produce a “different, superior bill.”

The legislature must pass a bill by Friday, March 8, which marks the ends to a 60-day legislative session in Tallahassee.

“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 said following his veto.

On Feb. 22, the Florida Senate voted 23-14 to prohibit kids under 16 from accessing any social media platforms which allow them to upload content or view the activity from others. Members of the Florida House followed the Senate by voting 108-7 on House Bill 1.

There was uncertainty, however, whether the governor would sign legislation after publicly acknowledging concerns over the proposal, specifically the lack of parental involvement in the decision to keep their minors off platforms. The proposal could also face legal challenges, DeSantis said. 

“I don’t think it’s there yet, but I hope we can get there in a way that answers parents’ concerns,” DeSantis said at an Orlando news conference before the bill passed through the legislature. 

The legislation doesn’t identify specific social media platforms, like Snapchat, Facebook or Instagram, which minors would be barred from accessing from their phones, tablets or other devices. Language within the bill, however, bans minors from platforms that track user activity and utilize addictive and deceptive design features which “cause excessive and compulsive use.” 

Minors would still be able to access websites and applications mostly used for e-mailing, direct messaging, streaming shows, reading news, sports and entertainment and interactive gaming, to name a few.  

Legislation would force social media platforms to use age verification methods to ensure users are 16 and older when they create new accounts. Any account held by a minor must be terminated by the social media platform — fines are in place for noncompliance. A social media platform would also be forced to delete an account if a person fails to verify their ages. Verification of a person’s age would be conducted by a nongovernmental, independent third party that’s not affiliated with the social media platform.

House Speaker Paul Renner and other supporters point to the harmful effects of social media platforms on a youth’s well-being as the impetus behind the bill. They’ve also highlighted rising suicide rates among children, cyberbullying and predators on social media. 

Renner believed DeSantis would sign the legislation after addressing issues with user anonymity. 

“We made changes throughout the process that I believe make this bill not only the strongest in the nation but also one that will pass constitutional muster,” Renner said following the bill’s passage on Feb. 22. 

Opponents, however, believe parents should have the ultimate decision in keeping their children off social media. Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat from Sunny Isles Beach, said he believes there’s a “bundle and basket” of rights for kids that should be abridged by parents or guardians, not the state. 

“You know what parents need to do if we are going to sit here and tell parents what they should and shouldn’t do with their families? Put your phones down. Have a conservation with your kid,” he said. 

Representatives for the Florida Keys, state Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez and state Rep. Jim Mooney, voted in favor of House Bill 1. Mooney, a Republican who represents the Keys, was one of 26 bill co-sponsors, which included Republicans and Democrats. Mooney alluded to Democratic Rep. Michele Rayner’s stories of kids committing suicide due to cyberbullying as one of the reasons strong action needs to be taken. Rayner was also a bill co-sponsor. 

“The number of kids committing suicide because of cyberbullying … it’s truly frightening,” Mooney previously told Keys Weekly.

Sen. Erin Grall, Republican from Vero Beach, said social media platforms have been deliberately designed to hold users’ attention for as long as possible and take advantage of vulnerabilities, such as a child’s desire for validation or fear of rejection.

“In fact, the power of the industry is so strong that they can work around parents, regardless of any boundaries that parents personally place on their children’s use of social media,” she said. 

DeSantis said he anticipates a new bill from the legislature will recognize priorities for parents’ rights and maintaining adults’ abilities for anonymous speech.

Jim McCarthy
Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.