US state prohibits children under the age of 14 from using social media

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a measure on Monday that will restrict children under the age of 14 from using social media in the state.

According to the report, children aged 14 or 15 will require parental authorization before joining a platform.

The bill, HB3, also orders social media corporations to remove the current accounts of individuals under 14.

Companies who fail to do so risk being sued on behalf of the child who opens an account on the platform. The bill states that the child could be awarded up to $10,000 in damages.

Companies found in breach of the statute might face fines of up to $50,000 per infraction, plus attorney’s fees and court costs.

“Ultimately, [we’re] trying to help parents navigate this very difficult terrain that we have now with raising kids, and so I appreciate the work that’s been put in,” DeSantis said during the bill-signing ceremony.

DeSantis previously vetoed a more stricter version of the bill, which would have prohibited social media accounts for children under the age of 16. That bill also requires Florida residents to provide an ID or other identifying documents in order to use social media.

HB3, which is set to go into effect in January 2025, comes as efforts to regulate social media continue to heat up across the United States, with some parents concerned that the platforms aren’t doing enough to keep their children safe online.

In December, more than 200 organisations sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urging him to schedule a vote on the Kids Online Safety Act, or KOSA, which seeks to create liability, or a “duty of care,” for apps and online platforms that recommend content to minors that can harm their mental health.

In January, lawmakers questioned CEOs of TikTok, X, and Meta about online child safety. The tech executives reaffirmed their commitment to child safety, and pointed to various tools they offer as examples of how they are proactive about preventing exploitation online.

Florida House Speaker Paul Renner and other advocates of the new law argue that social media use can harm children’s mental health and can lead to sexual predators communicating with minors.

“None of us can afford to be on the sidelines when it comes to social media,” Renner said in remarks made at the bill signing.

Several states that have enacted similar laws to limit teen social media — including Ohio and Arkansas — have been challenged by NetChoice LLC, a coalition of social media platforms whose members include Meta, Google and X, among others.

Florida’s law is also expected to face legal challenges over claims that it violates the First Amendment.

“We’re disappointed to see Gov. DeSantis sign onto this route,” Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel for NetChoice, said in an email statement, calling the law “unconstitutional.”

“There are better ways to keep Floridians, their families and their data safe and secure online without violating their freedoms.”

Both DeSantis and Renner alluded in their remarks to the potential legal hurdles ahead.

“You will not find a line in this bill that addresses good speech or bad speech because that would violate the First Amendment,” Renner said.

“We’ve not addressed that at all. What we have addressed is the addictive features that are at the heart of why children stay on these platforms for hours and hours on end.”

He specifically called out NetChoice, saying, “We’re going to beat them, and we’re never ever going to stop.”

DeSantis argued the bill is constitutionally sound.

“Any time I see a bill, if I don’t think it’s constitutional, I veto it,” he said.

He described the bill as “a fair application of the law and Constitution.”