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No Media for Minors: New Florida Bill Could Be a Buzzkill for Teens’ Social Media

Placing limits on kids’ social media usage has been on conservatives’ legislative wish-list for the last few years. A House bill that would ban minors under 16 from social media accounts went further than some Republicans thought constitutionally viable, earning a rare gubernatorial veto. A revised bill passed just in time for the end of the legislative session.

By JD Delcastillo | MediaLab@FAU

Mar 8, 2024

Following a veto by Gov. Ron DeSantis and some subsequent updates by Florida legislators, Florida House Bill 1 has been revamped with different features since its first proposed version in January. A new version of the bill passed both houses on Wednesday, paving the way to a likely signature of approval from the governor.

Parents, teachers and teens who will be impacted by the impending legislation, however, are less sure they’re ready to celebrate.

The original legislation that passed in both the Florida House and Senate last month would have prevented social media companies from allowing minors younger than 16 years old to create and keep accounts on the world’s most popular platforms. 

However, on Mar. 1, DeSantis announced via his X (Twitter) account that he vetoed HB 1 because “the legislature is about to produce a different, superior bill.”

The original bill also proposed that social media companies verify their minor users' ages through a “nongovernmental, independent, and U.S.-based third party that is not affiliated with the social media platform.” Users would be required to submit a government ID or even face scans.

The overarching criticisms of the bill included the possibility that it would be declared a violation of the First Amendment or that it would constitute an invasion of privacy due to the requirement that users submit a government ID. Further, there were loose descriptions as to which media companies would fall under this bill, and critics charged that it would take away a parent's right to choose whether to allow their child on social media or not, since the original bill had no parental exceptions.

Because of this, opponents said it was not likely to hold up in court. Similar bills have been signed in other states, such as Arkansas, which attempted to require parental permission for minors to use social media before having the legislation blocked by a federal judge. 

However, after DeSantis hit reset on the bill, legislators changed parts of the proposed legislation that may allow it to be held up in court.

The new proposal lowers the age requirement from 16 to 14, meaning children younger than 13 cannot be on the sites. Children ages 14 and 15 can be on social media platforms, but only with parental consent, although there are no specifications in the bill as to how that will be enforced. 

Some parents still feel that it should be their choice whether or not their kids have the right to have social media. These include members of the “Latina Mom Squad” (LMS), a Facebook group focused on creating a community of Latina mothers in the local South Florida area. 

Jennifer Mayo, 37, has two daughters, 13 and 16, who are currently in 8th and 10th grade. They both are on all the major social media platforms, like Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Snapchat. 

“I get why they’re doing it with the aspect of protecting children, but at the same time, social media is everything now,” said Mayo. “That’s how you get reviews from restaurants and find girls to do your nails and hair.”

Her belief is that parents need to be more on top of their kids.

“When my oldest was younger, even now, randomly, I’ll say, ‘Let me see your Instagram, let me see your DMs.’ I need to see who you’re following and who’s following you…and her accounts are all private.”

Taylor Persaud, 31, makes sure to limit her 11-year-old son’s screen time on TikTok but says it’s hard for her not to allow him to be on it when kids his age are using it.

“You don’t want them to not have any experience when it comes to things that everyone is doing, but you also don’t want them learning and doing the wrong thing,” said Persaud.

Although she didn’t disagree with proposed legislation, she feels as if it should still be a parent's choice.

“I agree both ways because it is detrimental. The kids don’t even play outside anymore because social media is consuming all their time and teaching them things they shouldn’t know,” said Persaud. “But it should be up to a parent and the way they raise their child and the limits they put on them and knowing what they’re watching. It shouldn’t be up to random people.”

Michael Lichtenstein, a former AP Government teacher of four years at Pompano Beach High School during both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, questions the rationality of the bill being proposed by Republicans with bi-partisan support 

“If we go back to basic political theory, conservatives think less government is better, and liberals think more government is better,” said Lichtenstein, who is now a manager at a Tampa hospital. “As Republicans, they shouldn’t want this bill that's infringing on the rights of the sacred family unit. This is 250 years of political theory getting flipped around.”

Working with high schoolers during his tenure and having two kids of his own, he understands the intent behind this bill but has doubts about the bill's ability to be enforced. 

“I always used to say, as a teacher, at what point is it the parents’ responsibility? Where’s that line of demarcation where it's no longer the state's responsibility and it becomes more the parent or guardian?” asked Lichtenstein. “The intent there is perfect, but I don’t know how the state makes it happen.”

One person who doesn’t want to see the bill enforced is JJ Metz. JJ is a 13-year-old aspiring sports journalist who covers FAU athletics for FAU Owls Nest. He has over 1,400 followers on Twitter and uses the platform to report, promote the podcast he appears on, and build his platform. He opened his account in 2022 but didn’t start tweeting until February 2023.

“I’ve always been interested in sports. Sports is my passion, playing or watching. FAU was doing really good in the 2023 season, so I just wanted to start reporting about it,” said Metz. 

Being on Twitter, Metz says he’s had to deal with a lot of “trolls” online due to his opinions but has also met a lot of “friends” during his time on the website. 

“It gets pretty hectic sometimes when people take it so far…[but] getting myself out there and starting my career at a young age and going out to report has been a huge positive for me.”

He said that his parents do supervise his account, and although they support his career and encourage him to build his platform, they still have their concerns.

“Both my parents are super scared and probably wouldn’t have allowed me to have it until I got the job with Owls Nest,” said Metz. “They like what I’m doing, but they’re still completely scared of it because there are really weird, mean people that want to hurt you… it’s definitely a scary platform to be on.”

Despite this, Metz hopes the bill doesn’t hold up so that he can continue promoting himself and growing his career.

“If the bill passes and my account gets terminated, then it would affect my entire career because what I’m trying to do is start young and show people when I apply to jobs that I’ve been doing this since a young age. I’d lose everything I have and have to start over when I’ve been working pretty hard.”

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