Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill in March that will put wide-ranging restrictions on minors’ access to social media when it goes into effect next year.

The freshly signed bill is the latest in a growing list of state-level attempts to restrict, regulate, or rein in social media platforms. Similar measures have failed in several state legislatures, but bills have made it all the way to the governors’ desks in states like Utah, Texas, Arkansas, and Ohio — albeit with varying levels of success and legal challenges.

The Law

The law (HB3) primarily targets minors under the age of 16 and the social media platforms they wish to use. Children under the age of 14 will be banned from social media altogether, essentially formalizing and adding one year to the age restriction policies most social media platforms already have in place. Minors who are 14 or 15 will be able to use social media, but only if they receive explicit parental permission to do so.

Most of the onus of enforcing the new law falls on the social media platforms themselves. HB3 requires all qualifying platforms to terminate all accounts held by kids younger than 14 after giving them 90 days to dispute the termination. The same will happen to account holders who are 14 or 15 and do not have permission from their parents or guardians, including “… accounts that the social media platform treats or categorizes as belonging to an account holder who is likely 14 or 15 years of age for purposes of targeting content or advertising.”

In other words, social media platforms will be expected to do more than just filter for every profile that lists its age as 14 or 15, they have to use all that wonderful targeting data to identify people who are probably that age as well.

If the platforms don’t find and terminate all the profiles, account holders aged 15 or under and their parents or guardians will also be allowed to ask to terminate their accounts, with the social media platforms having 5 and 10 business days to complete the request, respectively.

The Punishment

Platforms that “knowingly or recklessly” violate these restrictions and fail to delete every bit of data they have on users in Florida under the age of 15 may be subject to stiff penalties. If the platforms fail to follow the law to the state’s satisfaction, Florida can collect civil penalties of up to $50,000 per violation, plus any associated costs and fees. The law also establishes a process by which users and their parents or guardians can sue social media platforms if and be awarded up to $10,000 in damages per account.

Which Social Media Platforms Are Affected?

Rather than name any individual service, the law lays out a set of criteria to determine whether any given platform will be subject to the new requirements. To be considered a social media platform under the law, a website, forum, or application must:

  • Allow users to upload content and view others’ content.
  • Have at least 10% of its users who are under the age of 16 spend 2 or more hours a day on the service.
  • Use algorithms to curate content for users based on their personal data.
  • Have at least one of these features:
    • Infinite scrolling.
    • Push notifications.
    • Personal interactive metrics (Likes, Upvotes, Replays, etc)
    • Auto-playing videos.
    • Live-streaming or broadcasting.

I’ll Livestream You in Court

HB3 shares several similarities with policies like Arkansas’ Social Media Safety Act and Utah’s Social Media Regulation Act. Arkansas’ law has already been challenged in court, and Utah’s is expected to be soon. Critics of Arkansas and Utah’s policies argue that they discourage free speech and undermine privacy rights, and there’s little reason to believe HB3 will escape similar scrutiny.

Research suggests that social media can be damaging to users’ mental health. Studies show a link between heavy social media use and depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts in some cases – and that the effects are particularly pronounced among children and young adults. There is a clear case to be made in favor of restricting children’s access to social media. Maybe HB3’s approach will work, or maybe they’ll have to go back to the drawing board. Only time will tell.

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