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DeSantis vetoes blanket ban on social media for youth under 16| GuyWhoKnowsThings

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday vetoed a sweeping social media bill that would have banned Florida residents under 16 from opening accounts on services like TikTok and Instagram, even if their parents allowed them to do so.

In a post on X, DeSantis said he had vetoed the bill banning social media for teenagers because the state Legislature was “on the verge of producing a different, superior bill” that recognized parental rights. Last week, the governor suggested the measure went too far in replacing parental authority.

Shortly after news of the veto, Paul Renner, a Republican who is the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, said in a post on X that the new bill would be “an even stronger product to protect our children from online harm.”

While several states have recently passed laws requiring parental consent for children's social media accounts, the Florida measure that DeSantis vetoed was designed as a more general ban. It would have required certain social networks to verify users' ages, prevent people under 16 from signing up for accounts, and terminate accounts that a platform knew or believed belonged to underage users.

Parent groups, including the Florida Parent Teacher Association, had urged Mr. DeSantis to veto the bill after the state Legislature approved it last week.

The bill would almost certainly have faced constitutional challenges over the rights of young people to freely seek information. It would also have sparked online protests from teenagers who rely on social apps to communicate with friends and family, express themselves creatively, keep up with the news and follow political, sports, food and fashion trends.

NetChoice, a trade group representing Meta, Snap, TikTok and other tech companies, said it welcomed DeSantis' veto. In an email, Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice, said the measure, if signed, would have “replaced parents with the government and Silicon Valley.” He added that the bill's provision requiring social media sites to verify users' ages would have led to “data collection on a scale never before seen in the state.”

Now Florida lawmakers are planning to amend a different bill that would regulate sexually explicit material online “harmful to minors,” adding provisions to restrict certain social networks that have “addictive characteristics,” such as endless scrolling.

That bill would require pornography websites to verify users' ages and exclude those under 18. In the past two years, Louisiana, Utah, Mississippi and other states have enacted similar laws.

In his X post, Renner said the amended bill would “empower parents to control what their children can access online while protecting minors from harm caused by addictive social media platforms.”

The Supreme Court is weighing Free speech defies other social media laws., in cases that could reshape the Internet. One of those cases involves a 2021 Florida statute, currently on hold, that would prohibit platforms like Facebook and X from permanently excluding political candidates. (NetChoice is one of two technology trade groups challenging state laws in Supreme Court cases.)

But Florida's teen social media ban bill that DeSantis vetoed Friday went further, representing one of the most restrictive measures a state legislature has yet passed amid a growing national effort to crack down. against services like TikTok and Instagram in the name of child safety.

Over the past 18 months, other states have passed new online safety rules that would still allow younger teens to use social media.

Utah, Arkansas, Texas and Ohio passed laws last year that would force social networks to verify users' ages and obtain parental permission before giving accounts to children under 16 or 18. In 2022, California passed a law that would require social media and video. gaming applications used by minors for activate the highest privacy settings – and disable certain features, such as video autoplay, by default for those young people.

The social media crackdown is notable for being unusually bipartisan. California, a Democratic-led state, and Utah, a Republican-led state, recently enacted landmark laws that take different approaches to protecting young people online. Separately, last year Florida became the first state to require public schools prohibit the use of cell phones by students during class time.

Balancing new social media restrictions with free speech rights can be complicated. NetChoice has successfully sued to stop the new laws in Arkansas, California and Ohio. Judges in those cases said the children's online safety statutes likely infringed on the free speech rights of NetChoice members to distribute information, as well as the rights of young people to access it.

Mr. DeSantis said last week that he was “wrestling” with the Florida bill and weighing it against the rights of parents to make decisions about their children's online activities.

“You have to strike the right balance when you're looking at these things between policies that help parents get where they want to go and policies that can completely override parents,” he said.

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