DeSantis vetoes under-16 social media ban

He said the legislature is producing a ‘superior’ bill.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) vetoed a bipartisan youth social media bill Friday but indicated the legislature would soon pass revised legislation.

The veto of the bill, which would have barred minors under 16 years old from certain platforms, came amid warnings from the tech industry that the bill was unconstitutional and after DeSantis signaled concerns about preventing parents from having the power to decide if their kids should have access to social media.

“I have vetoed HB 1 because the Legislature is about to produce a different, superior bill,” DeSantis said Friday on X. “Protecting children from harms associated with social media is important, as is supporting parents’ rights and maintaining the ability of adults to engage in anonymous speech. I anticipate the new bill will recognize these priorities and will be signed into law soon.”

The revised bill was released late Friday. It would still prohibit those younger than 14 from having accounts with most social media platforms. But 14- and 15-year-olds would be allowed to have accounts if they had parental permission. It would also require that pornographic sites verify the age of users to ensure they are at least 18, something that several other states have adopted and was also a provision in the bill DeSantis vetoed.

The dramatic sequence of events in Tallahassee, a week before adjournment, represented a rare instance of DeSantis and the Republican-led legislature being at odds and having to hammer out an after-the-fact compromise.

House Speaker Paul Renner (R), who made the original bill a top priority, said it was needed to protect teens from the social and emotional harms of social media and insisted that walling off younger teens from the platforms would save lives.

Critics in the legislature said the legislation trampled on parental rights and ran counter to previous efforts to codify parent rights in state law.

“We are telling parents you are not fit to be a parent to make the best decision for your child,” Rep. Daryl Campbell (D) said when the bill was first debated on the House floor in January. “This is a complete governmental overreach.”

The vetoed bill would have established a multipart test for whether a social media company was subject to the rules with the goal of zeroing-in on platforms that lawmakers feel are most harmful to youth. One prong would be whether a platform used algorithms to customize user feeds or deployed addictive design features like infinite scroll, auto-play or push notifications.

Platforms that met the triggers in the bill would have had to verify the age of users and prevent those younger than 16 from opening an account. Existing teen accounts would have been terminated.

Much of the language from the original bill, including the trigger mechanisms, were carried over into the new compromise measure.

After the Florida legislature passed the social media law last week, the tech industry blitzed DeSantis with requests to veto the legislation. Tech groups Chamber of Progress and the Computer & Communications Industry Association sent letters. So did NetChoice, which warned that the law is unconstitutional and would put Floridians’ privacy and data at risk.

“HB 1’s blanket ban on access is nothing more than a government restriction on access to speech,” Carl Szabo, NetChoice’s vice president and general counsel, said in a letter. “Parents, not governments, should guide their children’s upbringing.”

Szabo on Friday praised DeSantis’s decision to veto the measure, but quickly criticized the compromise measure between the governor and legislators.

“To verify that a minor is under 16 AND that the adult verifying is actually that minor’s parent or guardian, that will in effect require social media companies to verify identities,” Szabo said in a statement. “Courts across the country have been shooting down these types of laws as unconstitutional. It’s time for lawmakers to find a better way.”

NetChoice has aggressively litigated against state-level efforts to regulate social media and make the internet safer for kids. It has sued and won injunctions against parental notification laws in Arkansas and Ohio and successfully blocked enactment of a youth data privacy law in California.

NetChoice also sued Utah over its 2023 social media parental consent law. Lawmakers there have adopted a pair of replacement laws aimed at improving their chances of withstanding court challenges.

The revised Florida legislation includes a provision that says if the parental permission requirement is struck down by a court, then the law would revert to barring 14 and 15 years from having accounts.

With congressional stasis, state lawmakers are increasingly interested in regulating social media companies despite the threat of legal challenge.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in a pair of cases brought by NetChoice challenging laws passed in Florida and Texas to prevent the deplatforming of conservative candidates and voters from social media. Both of those laws are also on hold.

NetChoice has been supportive of a 2023 Florida law requiring education in public schools on the social, emotional and physical effects of social media, and urged other states to pass similar laws.

This story has been updated to include details about the new compromise bill that the legislature plans to consider following DeSantis’s veto.