Florida’s House of Representatives has approved a bill that could restrict children’s internet access. 

If enacted into law the bill would ban children under the age of 16 from having a social media account. The bill has now gone to Florida’s state senate for consideration. 

If passed by the senate, social media companies would be required to terminate accounts of users below the age of 16 and use third party age verification software. 

Facebook and Instagram’s parent company Meta raised concerns that the bill would create data privacy issues in a House of Representatives Judiciary hearing. 

“[The proposed bill] would require each new social media user, from a 13-year-old in Miami to a 73-year-old from Boca Raton, to provide possibly sensitive identifying information, such as a driver’s license or birth certificate to a third-party organisation to verify their age,” stated Caulder Childs, public policy manager for Meta. 

Florida House Speaker Paul Renner has publicly supported the bill. 

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By GlobalData

“We must address the harmful effects social media platforms have on the development and well-being of our kids,” he stated, “Florida has a compelling state interest and duty to protect our children, their mental health, and their childhood.” 

The effect of social media on children’s mental health has come under growing scrutiny from legislators. 

In October 2023, over 30 US states sued Meta over its harmful and purposefully addictive design of its social media platforms. In their complaint, the states argued that Meta had knowingly created its platforms to promote “compulsive” use from younger users. 

Utah was the first US state to publish legislation regarding the social media access of children in its state back in March 2023. Utah state law require children to gain parental consent before creating social media accounts and set time limits for children’s online browsing.  

However, Utah’s act was criticised for its potential danger for data privacy by digital rights non-profit organisation Electronic Frontier Foundation. 

Senior analyst at GlobalData Amelia Connor-Afflick gave some context on Florida’s decision.

“In January 2024, Meta introduced new policies that placed all under 18s into the most restrictive content control settings,” she explained, “However, Florida lawmakers have deemed such measures as insufficient and the state wants to prohibit minors from accessing social media platforms completely.”

Connor-Afflick reminded Verdict that New York City’s Mayor recently decried social media as a public health crisis given the huge impact it can have on user’s mental health.

“Florida’s legislative measures are stricter than those in the UK’s Online Safety Act and the EU’s Digital Services Act,” she stated, “They could be the start of a wave of legislation in the US seeking to protect children online.”