Will Florida’s new social media law work? Here are some concerns

Gov. Ron DeSantis calls Florida’s social media restrictions on minors one of the strictest in the nation. The measure was passed to keep kids off apps like TikTok and Snapchat to protect their mental health.

The law prohibits anyone under 13 from having an account.

“One of the things I know a lot of parents have had concerns about is the role the internet and social media play in the upbringing of young kids,” DeSantis said last week as he signed the measure into law.

The law (HB3) would:

  • Require social media platforms to prohibit minors under 14 from creating new accounts.
  • Require social media platforms to terminate certain accounts.
  • Authorize the state to issue and enforce civil investigative demands under certain circumstances; providing civil penalties.
  • Allow 14- and 15-year-olds to keep accounts if a parent or guardian says it’s OK.

But there are still many unanswered questions, like how can social media companies verify someone’s age? How will the state know if sites are checked for that sort of thing? And what about the First Amendment?

According to the law, the age verification process must be “anonymous” and should be handled by a third-party company. But the verifier can’t use personal information, such as a credit card or driver’s license.

Jason Frankovitz, a computer scientist and software engineer out of California, says Florida’s language should be a bit more specific, especially if it wants to crack down on kids using online platforms.

“They basically say some age-verification process that’s based in the United States that’s in the business of providing age verification,” Frankovitz explained. “There is wiggle room for them [Legislature] to come up with something that’s more suitable to help enforce this law.”

There’s no real way to get minors off those sites

Frankovitz believes the Legislature will have trouble enforcing a social media ban because the law applies only to companies that target specific audiences.

According to the law’s text, if apps have a percentage of kids spending at least two hours per day on them — as well as those that have “addictive features” such as infinite scrolling, the company will have to comply with the law or face penalties up to $50,000.

Frankovitz argues the state will probably never see that money, because companies won’t easily hand over information about the demographics and trends of users.

“How many users are accessing which of these features and what types of content are being used on those features, the demographic breakdown of the users who are adding that content when using those features during this time of day — only the internal technical people within the companies really have access to that data.”
Companies say they’ll sue over First Amendment concerns

Some states including Arkansas and California have seen their social media regulations temporarily blocked by the US Supreme Court. And big tech companies have said they’ll sue Florida on free speech grounds.

“This is called a prior restraint on free speech, which is even a greater burden,” attorney Timothy Shields said.

Shields is a legal partner in Kelly Kronenberg’s Fort Lauderdale office and represents software companies and social media influencers. He believes the state will face legal pushback for reasons other than First Amendment concerns. The attorney points to the section of the law that allows 14- and 15-year-olds to keep accounts with parental consent.

“The two gap years where they can be online with parental consent also raise some constitutional questions,” said Shields. “If this is harmful, we generally don’t allow for harm to be waived by parental consent.”

DeSantis vetoed a similar measure (HB1)after it received pushback from parental rights and free speech advocates.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and other state officials support the law. They say social media companies are “manipulating Florida’s youth with addictive features.”

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