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Guest Column
Here’s why we sponsored the Florida bill to ban most social media for kids under 16
This is not a “red” issue or a “blue” issue. In Florida, we have a duty to protect our kids, write the sponsors of HB 1, Social Media Use for Minors.
 
The two authors write that "for us, it is not about restricting access to the internet at large, it is about protecting our children from the harms of social media. For the social media companies, this fight isn’t about protecting your First Amendment rights or preserving the role of the parent, it’s about one thing: money."
The two authors write that "for us, it is not about restricting access to the internet at large, it is about protecting our children from the harms of social media. For the social media companies, this fight isn’t about protecting your First Amendment rights or preserving the role of the parent, it’s about one thing: money." [ DREAMSTIME | Dreamstime ]
Published Feb. 9

Studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Federation of Teachers, Pew Research and the U.S. surgeon general have warned us that social media use among young people is linked to increased anxiety, clinical depression, negative body image perception and even increased thoughts of suicide. The addictive features of these platforms, like infinite scrolling and push notifications, are designed to keep people compulsively focused, so the platforms can act like a drug to children’s still-developing brains.

Michele Rayner
Michele Rayner [ Provided ]

Internal documents from social media companies have revealed that they know about the harmful effects on our kids, yet to keep making more profits, they continue to keep kids addicted. Social media platforms target kids similarly to how Big Tobacco did with their harmful, addictive products. And our kids deserve similar legal protections. That is why we have sponsored House Bill 1: to protect Florida’s youth by banning these addictive social media platforms for children under the age of 16.

Tyler Sirois
Tyler Sirois [ Provided ]

Everyone agrees that children should not be permitted to join a gambling website or purchase alcohol. It should be no different when people go on addictive social media platforms. It should be no different than going on a gambling website that requires age verification, walking onto a casino floor, walking into a liquor store, purchasing tobacco or getting a marriage license, all of which require ID.

Study after study has demonstrated the clear harm these sites pose to our young people. When it comes to areas that threaten the development of our children, like tobacco, alcohol, driving a motor vehicle, playing a slot machine or even entering into a contract for marriage, not only does Florida have a compelling state interest in taking a stand, but it must protect our children.

Social media companies that employ the addictive, harmful or deceptive features defined in our legislation must be compelled to put our children first by mandating adoption of age verification processes that are managed by an independent, nongovernmental third party that verifies the age of all prospective account holders. This process also protects account holders’ private information by mandating that any documentation that may be received during the verification be deleted. These modern age-verification systems will allow users to remain anonymous, while still providing reliable age verification.

Unlike laws in other states regulating social media, our legislation is narrowly crafted to withstand the inevitable court challenges these companies will bring forward. Meanwhile, platforms that don’t employ addictive, harmful or deceptive features like infinite scrolling, push notifications and auto-play are not affected by this legislation.

For us, it is not about restricting access to the internet at large, it is about protecting our children from the harms of social media. For the social media companies, this fight isn’t about protecting your First Amendment rights or preserving the role of the parent, it’s about one thing: money.

Don’t take our word for it. Internal documents show these companies have acknowledged “if we lose the teen foothold in the U.S., we lose the pipeline,” which is why, in 2021 alone, just one company spent $390 million recruiting 13- to 15-year-olds.

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The Florida House passed House Bill 1 with overwhelming bipartisan support. This is not a “red” issue or a “blue” issue. In Florida, we have a duty to protect our kids, and this is a fight we intend to win.

Reps. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, and Tyler Sirois, R-Merritt Island, sponsored House Bill 1, Social Media Use for Minors.