In recent years, there’s been growing concern about how social media affects children and teens (and for that matter adults). Is it good for them to spend so much time in front of a screen? What about the addictive nature of social media? How is it affecting their mental health? The questions go on and on. But now, in another radical step by Florida Governor Desantis, the state is seeking to ban all children under 16 from social media.
As a response to these concerns, several states in the United States, including Florida, have taken steps to restrict social media use by minors.
In this article, we will explore House Bill 1 (HB 1) and its regulations on social media, what other states are doing about it, the potential harm associated with teens using social media, and perhaps just as concerning, do we want the state parenting our children?
The Florida House voted 106-13 on January 24th in favor of HB 1 which will ban social media use among minors under the age of 16 if it’s passed by Florida’s Republican-controlled Senate and signed by the Republican governor.
Among all the questions this bill creates and all the restrictions it applies, it seems whoever they paid to write the bill forgot an important point: what is the definition of a social media account?
What Does Florida HB 1 Say and What Would It Restrict?
The official bill, called “CS/HB 1 - Social Media Use for Minors”, says the following:
Social Media Use for Minors: Requires social media platforms to prohibit minors from creating new accounts, terminate accounts & provide additional options for termination of such accounts, use reasonable age verification methods to verify ages of account holders, & disclose specified policies & provide specified resources, measures, & disclaimers; authorizes DLA [Department of Legal Affairs, the states law enforcement arm] to bring actions for violations under Florida Deceptive & Unfair Trade Practices Act; provides penalties; provides for private causes of actions; provides certain social media platforms are subject to jurisdiction of state courts.
Now that the bill has passed the Florida House of Representatives it will move on to its last hurdle, the Florida Senate. If passed, HB 1 would mandate social media platforms to enforce the following:
1. Prohibiting Minors from Creating New Accounts
Social media platforms would be required to prevent minors under the age of 16 from creating new accounts.
2. Age Verification
Platforms must use "reasonable" age verification methods when new accounts are created to confirm the age of the account creator.
3. Account Termination
Social media platforms should terminate any account that is reasonably known to be held by a minor younger than 16, providing users with a 90-day window to dispute the termination.
4. Request for Termination
Minors who are ineligible to have a social media account can request its termination. Parents or guardians can also request to terminate a minor's account.
5. Deletion of Personal Information
Platforms are obligated to delete all personal information related to terminated accounts unless there are legal reasons to maintain such information.
While HB 1 addresses protecting minors from potential harm caused by social media, it does not explicitly say which social media platforms would be affected by the bill. Would it include Instagram? Probably. What about Telegram? Or Snapchat? Is Reddit a social media platform? What about Quora? Youtube? Nobody is sure.
The Facts About Social Media Harming Children
Whether banning free speech or protecting children is the goal of HB 1, there is no doubt that real data backs the harm that young people suffer on social media.
To start with, teens use social media a lot. Like A LOT! Out of teens 13-17 years old, 95% reported using social media. Additionally, 33% reported that they use it “almost constantly.” And it’s not just teens, nearly 40% of kids ages 8-12 use social media, according to the same research.
Besides the constant use of social media, one big concern for any parent or family member is their child being exposed to predators. But since the advent of the internet, or maybe the wheel, children have been exposed to adults who want to harm them. Social media is both a place where this can happen and a place where teens can learn to keep each other safe.
Adolescents who use social media more than 3 hours a day are twice as likely to experiencing poor mental health, with teen girls and LGBTQ youth being most vulnerable to cyberbullying and online harassment. But without social media, where would at-risk youth like gay teens find others like them who can prevent feelings of isolation and the risks that come with it?
A Pew Research study found that nearly half of all teens (49%) had experienced some form of cyberbullying. The most common forms of cyberbullying include offensive name-calling, spreading false rumors, receiving unsolicited explicit images, and physical threats.
Regarding self-harm and suicide, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people 10-24 years old. From 2010-2020, there was a 40% increase in suicidal thoughts among young people, and about 1 in 53 high schoolers reported a suicide attempt requiring medical treatment. While the relationship between these statistics and social media use is not explicitly stated and is definitely complex, it’s worth mentioning.
As we said, social media platforms can sometimes serve as both a source of negative feelings and a platform for finding social support.
Arguments For HB 1: Social Media Use for Minors
Proponents of the law argue that social media can be harmful to children's mental health, leading to issues like anxiety, depression, and cyberbullying. HB 1 aims to protect teens from these potential dangers.
The bill discusses the addictive nature of social media and its purposeful features that can be addicting, like notifications, streaks, and likes. It seeks to limit children's exposure to potentially harmful algorithms and manipulative features.
Supporters believe the bill empowers parents to have more control over their children's online activities and protects them from online predators. Which, and I will limit my opinion here, is a bit odd since it literally takes the power out of the parents’ hands.
Arguments Against HB 1: Social Media Use for Minors
Critics argue that HB 1 infringes on First Amendment rights and restricts a teen’s access to information and communication. It’s also no secret that Republican politicians would love for apps like TikTok to be banned altogether—whether it is for national security or because information is getting out that they don’t like, as TikTok’s CEO, Vincent Bevins, has stated.
After all, Gen Z is using the app to disrupt Trump rallies, turn against the American support of Israel, and support Black Lives Matter. In fact, 70% of teens who were born in Gen Z are involved in a social or political cause.
Concerns also exist about the feasibility of actually being able to verify age online when millions of new accounts will likely be created if this bill passes. There’s also the potential for inaccurate verification leading to unwarranted account suspensions.
Some argue that the bill focuses on access rather than content, potentially neglecting the need for addressing harmful content itself. Lots of apps do not do enough to prevent accounts that are clearly minors from seeing inappropriate content.
Finally, critics suggest exploring solutions like parental controls, media literacy education, and platform accountability for harmful content is the better route than limiting free speech.
Social Media Regulation Across America
Florida is not the only state considering banning social media use by minors. Several other states have also taken steps to limit teens from using social media. Ohio, Arkansas, and Utah have tried, with varying strategies and results.
Ohio's Social Media Parental Notification Act: This act sought to prohibit social media use for teens under 16 without parental consent but was blocked by a federal judge for being against the Constitution.
Arkansas: In Arkansas, a requirement for parents to consent to their minor signing up for social media was sought. But it was halted by a lawsuit filed by NetChoice, a trade organization representing social media companies.
Utah: Utah's legislation aimed to restrict teens' use of social media, including preventing them from using the internet between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. This law has also faced legal challenges from NetChoice and The Electronic Frontier Foundation for being unconstitutional.
California: California has a similar story. They tried to pass laws stopping teens from using the internet and were hit with a lawsuit by, you guessed it, NetChoice.
Florida's HB 1 attempt to restrict social media use by minors is a response to a real concern: the always-evolving internet and technology which parents are becoming less and less knowledgeable about. (I work on the internet for a living and use social media multiple times a day to promote my law firm, but my children and nieces and nephews know more than I could dream about both.)
And while the debate over the appropriate level of regulation will continue, nobody can argue that keeping children safe is a priority.
But whether that is the role of the government, the parent, or the app creator, is yet to be seen. My belief is that the government should not limit our constitutional rights or a parent’s right to parent their children, but instead, the companies that make these harmful products should be held accountable for their actions, like making their apps purposefully addicting, using algorithms to show teens inappropriate content, and not doing enough to truly know the age of their users.
Contact A Lawyer If Your Child Or Teen Was Harmed By Social Media
If you believe that your child has been harmed y social media, contact an attorney who specializes in filing lawsuits against social media companies for harm to young people. Dolman Law Group, the partner firm of LLN, has Social Media Youth Harm Lawyers that can help, you can contact them here.