Social media ban for minors keeps making progress despite Gov. Ron DeSantis' apprehensions

'I believe it is the most important thing I have ever done during my time in the Legislature,' Florida House Speaker Rep. Paul Renner says
Posted at 8:35 PM, Feb 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-15 20:35:25-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A bill banning children under 16 years old from many social media sites kept moving forward in the Florida Legislature on Thursday. It's now ready for a floor vote in the Senate, and a couple steps from the governor's desk. That's as he signals legal concerns suggesting the major GOP goal isn't guaranteed.

Under HB1's provisions, minors under 16 might soon get booted from social media sites like TikTok, X, Instagram and Facebook. Social media sites with features like infinite scroll, data algorithms, and livestreaming would need to use third-party age verification to ensure users are at least 16. The latest version of the bill also includes pornographic websites, which would need to verify users as 18 and older.

"I believe it is the most important thing I have ever done during my time in the Legislature," Florida House Speaker Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said.

The bill is a brainchild of Renner’s, who thinks it'll save impressionable young minds from addictive and potentially dangerous content.

"Devastating effects— not on every kid," Renner said. "Some kids that are resilient can handle it, but the devastating effect on the whole is crystal clear. The correlation not just in this state but globally tracks."

While there are apprehensions among the caucus, Republicans have largely been on board with the idea. Members tell us some kind of change is needed to protect children.

"Social media is a problem," state Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, said. "Right now it's what do we want to do and how do we regulate it?"

"It's very narrow— good definitions," Sen. Erin Grall, R-Fort Pierce, said. "Really, focusing on the harm and the addiction."

That's as Democrats have pushed back. Several in committee Thursday felt the GOP was stripping away parental consent.

"We've been hearing so much about parental rights," Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said. "If we really believe in parental rights we will give parents the option."

"It not Legislature's job to parent the parents in how they parent," state Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, said.

But there's another potential problem. A similar policy in Arkansas has been blocked by a federal judge over First Amendment concerns, something Florida's chief executive has noted Tuesday, telling the press he had apprehensions when asked about HB1.

"These things have huge legal hurdles," Gov. Ron DeSantis said. "I don't want to go down the road of doing something that's not going to pass muster, legally."

Those behind the scenes said negotiations on a final product are ongoing. A spokesman for the House Speaker sounded confident the priority would get across the finish line, saying "Speaker and Gov have been in lockstep when it comes to protecting children."

The next step for HB1 was a floor vote in the Senate, expected next week. It'll then have to go back to the House floor after a recent amendment.