Florida’s DeSantis signs law restricting social media for people under 16

By Thomson Reuters Mar 25, 2024 | 12:09 PM

(Reuters) – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday signed a bill that bans children aged under 14 from social media platforms and requires 14- and 15-year-olds to get parental consent, a measure supporters say will protect them from online risks to their mental health.

The measure requires social media platforms to terminate the accounts of people under 14 and those of people under 16 who do not have parental consent. It requires them to use a third-party verification system to screen out those who are underage.

The state’s Republican-led legislature passed a bill in February that would have banned children under 16 from social media entirely. DeSantis, a Republican, vetoed that bill earlier this month, saying it limited parents’ rights.

The amended version allows for parents to provide consent for older children to engage on social media platforms. It will become law on July 1.

“Social media harms children in a variety of ways,” DeSantis said in a statement. He said the legislation “gives parents a greater ability to protect their children.”

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

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

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

The measure requires social media companies to permanently delete personal information collected from terminated accounts and let parents bring civil lawsuits against those failing 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 said numerous other states were contemplating similar regulations.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Washington; Editing by Frank McGurty and Nia Williams)