Florida lawmakers want to ban social media platforms for kids — but won’t say which ones

Florida House lawmakers will soon vote on whether to approve a bill that would ban minors younger than 16 years old from social media platforms — but they won’t say which ones would be affected.

The legislation (HB 1) is expected to come up for its final vote Wednesday. It’s expected to pass, being a priority of Republican House Speaker Paul Renner, and would then have to be approved by the Senate before going to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.

But during questions on the House floor Tuesday, when the bill came up for questions, proponents refused to name the services that would be affected.

“Can you walk me through which prominent social media platforms are actually going to be impacted?” asked Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat.

Rep .Tyler Sirois talks with other representatives during the opening day of the 2024 Legislative Session on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024.

Republican Rep. Tyler Sirois of Merritt Island, a bill sponsor, said they’re not looking at particular platforms, that the legislation was trying to address “addictive features,” like autoplay, infinite scroll and push notifications trying to get minors’ attention.

“Does that include Facebook or Instagram?” Eskamani asked. Meta, the parent company of both, is opposed to the legislation.

“I’m not going to get into specific companies,” Sirois said. “Our bill is focused on features. We have an amendment that is going to tighten some definitions that might answer some of your questions.”

That amendment, filed by him and later approved, narrowed the definition of affected companies: They must, in part, use “addictive, harmful, or deceptive design features, or any other feature that is designed to cause an account holder to have an excessive or compulsive need to use or engage with the social media platform” for the measure to apply to them.

What about Snapchat? YouTube?

Before that amendment came up for consideration, Rep. Robin Bartleman, D-Weston, asked if the bill would apply to YouTube. She said minors had come to her office earlier in the day concerned it would prevent them from using it for educational purposes.

Rep. Fiona McFarland speaks at a press conference held with Gov. Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Chris Sprowls about the Transparency in Technology Act at the Capitol Monday, Feb. 15, 2021.

“I think it’s important we not malign any specific company as we talk about protections under this bill,” said Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota, another bill sponsor.

Eskamani also asked if Snapchat, a multimedia messaging app, would fall under the bill. “I guess what would be helpful as I decide how to vote is knowing what social media companies are impacted,” she went on to say.

Rep. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, one of the more progressive members of the House Democrats and who helped craft and introduce the legislation, said she didn’t want to call out specific companies.

“If the social media platform falls under any of the things we have identified, then obviously they would be subject to this law,” she said. “I don’t know if it would be helpful for us to actually get in to naming specific companies.”

When approached in her office minutes after the meeting, Bartleman said she still wasn’t sure if YouTube would be affected.

When asked in a phone interview if the amendment clarified which platforms would be affected, Eskamani said it did not. Eskamani added that she believed proponents wouldn’t name them was because they didn’t want to give ammunition to any companies that may sue over the law.

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Could this be challenged in court?

The bill comes amid considerable concern on the effects of social media on children.

A 2023 U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory found some benefits of social media for kids, most of whom are its users. But it also found “ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm” to children’s mental health and well-being, though it said there was a lack of research in the area.

A number of states have also recently taken a stab at the issue. Some already have been knocked back by courts.

A 2023 law in Arkansas has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge amid First Amendment concerns. The same happened earlier this month for a new Ohio law. Both of them, though, weren’t all-out bans, allowing for parental consent.

“Are we not concerned that what we’re passing is so similar and therefore not constitutional?” said Rep. Mike Gottlieb, D-Davie.

Sirois responded by pointing out that they were in a statehouse, not a courthouse.

“Our bill is not about content,” he said. “It’s about these addictive features, and I think you can point to other examples that exist in our law, whether it’s alcohol or tobacco sales … We’ve put up guardrails to say, ‘We don’t believe these activities are safe for kids.’ “

This reporting content is supported by a partnership with Freedom Forum and Journalism Funding Partners. USA Today Network-Florida First Amendment reporter Douglas Soule is based in Tallahassee, Fla. He can be reached at DSoule@gannett.com. On X: @DouglasSoule.

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