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Florida senate passes social media curbs

Florida Senate passed bill that aims to keep children under 16 off social media
Florida Senate passed bill that aims to keep children under 16 off social media 00:32

TALLAHASSEE — Amid a debate about the role of government and parental rights, the Florida Senate on Thursday passed a bill that seeks to keep children under age 16 off social media platforms.

The Senate voted 23-14 to approve the bill (HB 1), which includes preventing children under 16 from creating accounts on at least some social media platforms. The issue is a priority of House Speaker Paul Renner, with supporters saying social media harms children's mental health and exposes them to sexual predators.

The House passed the bill last month but will have to take another vote because of changes made in the Senate.

"We're talking about businesses that are using addictive features to engage in mass manipulation of our children to cause them harm," Senate sponsor Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, said before the Senate vote.

But opponents described the bill as "government overreach" and said parents should make decisions about whether children use social media.

"Parenting is very difficult, but that doesn't mean that the government needs to step in," Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said.

Opponents also argued that courts would rule that the bill is unconstitutional, as judges have blocked similar laws in other states. Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Sunny Isles Beach, described it as taking a "miracle" for the bill to be found constitutional.

"This will be overturned in a court of law, even by those (judges) at the state level appointed by the governor [Gov. Ron DeSantis] and even those at the federal level appointed by President Trump," said Pizzo, an attorney.

DeSantis, an attorney, raised constitutional concerns about the bill after it passed the House. But the measure was revised in the Senate, at least in part because of efforts to address legal concerns.

"The states across this country are all standing up, and we've all taken different tactics to try and get the courts to address this," Grall, an attorney, said. "I think this bill goes a very long way to be as narrowly tailored as possible to make it through that constitutional analysis."

While many major issues in the Republican-controlled Legislature are decided along party lines, the bill drew Republican and Democratic support — and Republican and Democratic opposition.

Democrats Rosalind Osgood of Fort Lauderdale and Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg joined 21 Republicans in voting for the bill. Republicans Bryan Avila of Miami Springs, Jennifer Bradley of Fleming Island, Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill, Jonathan Martin of Fort Myers and Jay Trumbull of Panama City joined nine Democrats in opposing it. Three senators were absent.

Along with preventing children under 16 from creating accounts on at least some social media platforms, the bill would require platforms to terminate existing accounts that they know or have "reason to believe" are held by minors younger than 16 and allow parents to request that minors' accounts be terminated.

The bill includes criteria for determining which platforms would be subject to the restrictions. The criteria would include issues related to algorithms, "addictive features" and allowing users to view the content or activities of other users.

Also, it would require platforms to use age verification before accounts are created, with the verifications also affecting adults.

Under changes approved Wednesday, social media platforms would be required to offer anonymous age-verification methods to potential users. The platforms also could offer what are described as "standard" age-verification methods. If both methods are offered, potential users would be able to choose the method.

Grall said changes to the bill have focused on platform features, rather than content, to try to help it withstand court challenges. The bill does not list specific platforms that would be affected.

She also has pushed back against arguments about parental rights, saying the state needs to address the social media issue because of continual changes made by platforms. She said Wednesday the dynamics prevent "informed parental consent."

While social media restrictions have dominated the debate, the bill also includes requiring age verification to try to prevent minors under age 18 from having access to online pornographic sites. The House passed that issue in a separate bill.

Renner, R-Palm Coast, has supported the changes made by the Senate. It was not immediately clear Thursday morning when the House will take up the bill again.

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