Florida’s DeSantis signs social media law requiring age verification

March 25, 2024
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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) just signed into law HB 3, a bill that will give parents of teens under 16 more control over their kids’ access to social media and require age verification for many websites.

The bill requires social media platforms to prevent kids under 14 from creating accounts, and delete existing ones. It also requires parent or guardian consent for 14- and 15-year-olds to create or maintain social media accounts and mandates that platforms delete social media accounts and personal information for this age group at the teen’s or parent’s request. Companies that fail to promptly delete accounts belonging to 14- and 15-year-olds can be sued on behalf of those kids and may owe them up to $10,000 in damages each. A “knowing or reckless” violation could also be considered an unfair or deceptive trade practice, subject to up to $50,000 in civil penalties per violation.

The bill also requires many commercial apps and websites to verify their users’ ages — something that introduces a host of privacy concerns. But it does require websites to give users the option of “anonymous age verification,” which is defined as verification by a third party that cannot retain identifying information after the task is complete. The requirement kicks in when a commercial site contains a “substantial portion of material harmful to minors,” defined as more than a third of content on the site, which would clearly target porn sites in particular. Such sites must ensure users are 18 or older — though news sites are exempt from the requirement. Violations are also subject to an up to $50,000 civil penalty each.

Tech industry groups have already come out against the legislation. NetChoice — an association representing major social media platforms that’s already embroiled in a Supreme Court battle with the state over a separate social media law — said before HB 3 was signed that it “in effect will impose an ‘I.D. for the Internet’ on any Floridian who wants to use an online service—regardless of their age.”

The governor vetoed an earlier social media bill that would have banned social media accounts for kids under 16. Unlike the newly signed legislation, the one DeSantis vetoed wouldn’t have given parents the option to okay their 14- and 15-year-olds’ accounts.

“Protecting children from harms associated with social media is important, as is supporting parents’ rights and maintaining the ability of adults to engage in anonymous speech,” DeSantis tweeted on the day he vetoed the earlier bill.

DeSantis has staked much of his political capital on championing parents’ rights over the sort of information kids have access to. He signed the Parental Rights in Education Act in 2022, which opponents call the “Don’t Say Gay” law, that bars schools from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity for some grades. Another bill DeSantis approved strengthened parents’ ability to challenge books in school libraries and reading lists.

Florida’s action follows other states’ moves to limit teen social media access or require greater parental insight into their kids’ online activities. Last year, for example, Utah’s governor signed into law two bills that require kids under 18 to get parental consent to use social media and would give parents access to kids’ posts and messages online. Soon after, Arkansas’ governor approved a bill similarly requiring parental consent for minors in the state to open social media accounts.

DeSantis hasn’t shied away from regulating social media companies in the past. In 2021, he signed into law SB 7072, which requires social media companies to enforce content moderation in a “consistent” manner and prevent them from deplatforming political candidates or so-called journalistic enterprises. The Supreme Court is currently considering whether the law violates the First Amendment by forcing private companies to carry speech even when they don’t want to.

Florida House Speaker Paul Renner (R) said at a press conference for the bill signing Monday that they took pains to avoid First Amendment issues with HB 3. “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.”

Renner compared the addictive features of social media to drinking alcohol, and said kids are not yet equipped to moderate themselves. “Unlike an adult who can make an adult decision say I drank too much last night, I need to drink less or stop drinking altogether, a child in their brain development doesn’t have the ability to know that they’re being sucked in to these addictive technologies, and to see the harm, and step away from it. And because of that, we have to step in for them.”

Legislation targeting social media platforms for how they protect young users has become increasingly popular over the past few years. A leading proposal in the US Senate, the Kids Online Safety Act, recently passed the threshold of support needed to clear that chamber, once scheduled for a vote. And another proposal in the Senate, the Protecting Kids on Social Media Act, would require parental consent for kids under 18 to use social media.

The Florida legislation is set to take effect on January 1st next year.





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