Children on social media
Florida passes bill targeting child safety on social media platforms Pexels

On Monday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law. This bill prohibits children under the age of 14 from accessing social media platforms within the state. The recently signed bill also requires those aged 14 or 15 to obtain parental consent before joining any social media platform.

HB3, the bill in question, instructs social media companies to remove the existing accounts of those who are under 14. Failure to comply with this directive could result in legal action being taken against the platform on behalf of the underage user who created the account.

"Ultimately, [we're] trying to help parents navigate this very difficult terrain that we have now with raising kids, and so I appreciate the work that's been put in," DeSantis said in remarks during the bill-signing ceremony.

DeSantis previously vetoed a stricter iteration of the bill, which, if passed, HB 1 would have banned social media accounts for children under 16. The bill would have also mandated Florida residents to provide identification or other identifying documents to access social media platforms.

In contrast, HB3 focuses on regulating social media throughout the United States. These efforts stem from parental concerns that social media platforms cannot safeguard their children's online experiences.

In January, Elon Musk's X (formerly known as Twitter) announced its plans to establish a new moderation office in Austin, Texas, aimed at addressing concerns surrounding content depicting child sexual abuse.

However, not all social media platforms take sufficient measures to tackle these concerns. For instance, documents surfaced in 2023 alleging that Meta, Facebook's parent company, intentionally engineered its platforms to foster addiction, especially among children.

A new era of online child safety

In December, more than 200 organisations sent a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to schedule a vote on the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA). This act aims to establish liability, or a "duty of care," for applications and online platforms that recommend content to minors, potentially impacting their mental health adversely.

"A child in their brain development doesn't have the ability to know that they're being sucked into these addictive technologies and to see the harm and step away from it, and because of that, we have to step in for them," Paul Renner, a Republican state house speaker, said at a ceremony for the bill signing held at a Jacksonville school.

A considerable number of states have contemplated similar legislation. In Arkansas, a federal judge in August halted the enforcement of a law mandating parental consent for minors to establish new social media accounts.

Legal battles and First Amendment concerns

Legal challenges are anticipated against Florida's law because it violates the First Amendment. "We're disappointed to see Gov. DeSantis sign onto this route," Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel for NetChoice, said in an email statement, arguing the law is "unconstitutional."

According to DeSantis, other ways exist to ensure Floridians, their families and their data are safe and secure online without violating their freedoms. DeSantis and Renner hinted in their remarks at the potential legal challenges ahead.

"You will not find a line in this bill that addresses good speech or bad speech because that would violate the First Amendment," Renner said. "We've not addressed that at all. What we have addressed is the addictive features that are at the heart of why children stay on these platforms for hours and hours on end."

DeSantis asserts that the bill is constitutionally sound. "Any time I see a bill, if I don't think it's constitutional, I veto it," he stated. Describing the bill as "a fair application of the law and Constitution," he emphasised its legitimacy.