Gov. DeSantis Signs Bill Banning Social Media for Young Teens

A law signed today by Gov. Ron DeSantis raises the age for teenagers to start social media accounts to 14-years-old. The law also requires parents to grant permission to anyone 14 and 15-years-old to open an account. The big change is that social media companies will now have to verify the information rather than just take the word of the kids starting new accounts.


While older kids face no restrictions, the legislation forces all social-media users in the state to submit identification documents to verify their ages.

“Social media harms children in a variety of ways,” DeSantis said in a statement Monday, adding that the measure, known as House Bill 3, “gives parents a greater ability to protect their children.”

The Florida legislation is part of a broader effort by some states to clamp down on social media firms amid rising concern over their impact on youth mental health and their role in spreading sexually explicit content. States such as Arkansas and Ohio have enacted laws requiring minors to secure parental approval for social media accounts. But those measures have faced legal challenges, as has a children’s digital privacy law in California.

The law is set to take effect at the start of 2025 but the state expects to be sued by NetChoice, a lobbying group that represents Meta (Facebook and Instagram), TikTok and Alphabet (YouTube). NetChoice has already issued a statement condemning the new law. 

Also there was House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, who negotiated with DeSantis on the legislation (HB 3) after the governor vetoed the original version, citing legal and parents’ rights concerns…

“What’s unique in this bill is we didn’t focus on content,” Renner said. “You will not find a line in this bill that addresses good speech or bad speech because that would violate the First Amendment…

He predicted an imminent legal challenge from NetChoice, a tech industry trade group that has filed lawsuits in other states against similar measures and has opposed Florida’s.


Florida’s legislature initially put forward a more stringent law but Gov. DeSantis vetoed it earlier this month saying he wanted changes made

HB 1, the one that DeSantis vetoed, would have prevented anyone under 16 from having a social media account. It also included an exhaustive list of all the types of sites that would not be affected. It would have taken effect July 1, 2024.

HB 3 is more streamlined and allows children 14 and 15 years of age to have accounts with consent from a parent or legal guardian. It would go into effect next year.

The new bill also goes into much more detail on subpoenas used in investigations of noncompliance, where subpoenas may be issued, how the state will punish people or organizations that do not comply with subpoenas, and what someone may be charged for noncompliance (not more than $5,000 per week, plus attorney fees and costs).

One argument against this is that the state government is really stepping in and taking the decision away from parents. After all, if parents don’t want their kids to use social media until they are 16, they could prevent it.

There are two problems with that argument though. The first is that kids are savvy enough to get around the restrictions currently in place. It’s pretty easy to just sign up for an account and lie about your age. So unless your parents refuse to give you a smart phone, their ability to control your use of it when they are not present is somewhat limited.


The other issue is what Jonathan Haidt calls the collective action problem. Research suggests many kids are fine not using social media unless and until they know their peers are using it. At that point they don’t want to be the only people left out. By making social media more of an opt-in, you make it more likely that kids will choose to stay off it because they aren’t the only ones not using it. Haidt talked about this in a recent article for the Atlantic.

Once a few students in any middle school lie about their age and open accounts at age 11 or 12, they start posting photos and comments about themselves and other students. Drama ensues. The pressure on everyone else to join becomes intense. Even a girl who knows, consciously, that Instagram can foster beauty obsession, anxiety, and eating disorders might sooner take those risks than accept the seeming certainty of being out of the loop, clueless, and excluded. And indeed, if she resists while most of her classmates do not, she might, in fact, be marginalized, which puts her at risk for anxiety and depression, though via a different pathway than the one taken by those who use social media heavily. In this way, social media accomplishes a remarkable feat: It even harms adolescents who do not use it.

A recent study led by the University of Chicago economist Leonardo Bursztyn captured the dynamics of the social-media trap precisely. The researchers recruited more than 1,000 college students and asked them how much they’d need to be paid to deactivate their accounts on either Instagram or TikTok for four weeks. That’s a standard economist’s question to try to compute the net value of a product to society. On average, students said they’d need to be paid roughly $50 ($59 for TikTok, $47 for Instagram) to deactivate whichever platform they were asked about. Then the experimenters told the students that they were going to try to get most of the others in their school to deactivate that same platform, offering to pay them to do so as well, and asked, Now how much would you have to be paid to deactivate, if most others did so? The answer, on average, was less than zero. In each case, most students were willing to pay to have that happen.

Social media is all about network effects. Most students are only on it because everyone else is too. Most of them would prefer that nobody be on these platforms. Later in the study, students were asked directly, “Would you prefer to live in a world without Instagram [or TikTok]?” A majority of students said yes––58 percent for each app.


So creating a world in which very few Middle School kids have social media accounts will lessen the pressure other kids feel to have one. But this is something that’s hard to accomplish piecemeal.

Anyway, next up is a lawsuit but this seems like a step in the right direction for improving kids’ mental health.



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