Florida lawmakers want social media warning label for teens

Bipartisan legislation would require disclosure of “addictive design features.”
A general view of the Old Capitol and current Florida Capitol buildings Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023 in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

Bipartisan legislation in the Florida legislature would require social media companies to provide a warning to teenage users of potential harms from using their product.

The proposal is yet another example of efforts in state legislatures this year to regulate social media companies and how they interact with younger users. The fusillade of bills, from both Democrats and Republicans, signals growing alarm over the effects of social media on the mental health of teens.

Under the Florida bill, social media platforms would have to disclose their use of “addictive design features” such as auto play and infinite scroll. They would also have to provide zip code-based contact information for suicide prevention and domestic violence prevention resources, among other requirements.

“The children of the state of Florida must be protected and … our social media companies must be held accountable,” said state Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby (D), the prime sponsor of the legislation at a Capitol news conference Tuesday.

Another provision of the bill would require a warning label of sorts on social media sites. Specifically, when a minor logged into a platform, they would have to acknowledge a disclaimer warning that use of the application could be harmful to their mental health, that the site may employ features that have addictive qualities, and that their personal data may be collected and shared.

“This bill is about providing some guardrails, some disclosure and some accountability,” said state Rep. Tyler Sirois (R), a cosponsor of the legislation.

Sirois cited the case of 14-year-old Adriana Kuch in New Jersey who died by suicide earlier this month after a video of her being assaulted at school was posted to TikTok.

Another element of the proposed law would prohibit schools that receive state funding from requiring students to have a social media account in order to access information related to school-sponsored educational activities.

Social media companies that failed to comply with the law would be blocked from accepting new accounts from minors and would face a $10,000 fine for each violation of that rule.

The approach in Florida differs from that of other states such as Utah and California where lawmakers have proposed to prohibit social media sites from using addictive algorithms and restrict what data they can collect on teen users.

Still, Rayner-Goolsby said she thought her bill could be a model for the rest of the country and for Congress.

“My hope is that the federal government would also adopt a lot of what we’re doing to make sure federally there are guardrails as well,” she said.

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) announced the introduction of federal legislation that would raise the age to open a social media account from 13 to 16, among other new requirements. Some states are considering requiring parental permission for teens to have a social media account.

A separate bill advancing in the Florida legislature, sponsored by state Sen. Danny Burgess (R), would require public schools to teach social media safety.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released this week raised fresh alarm about the mental state of youth. Among the findings was that that one in three girls had given serious thought to attempting suicide. The sponsors of the Florida legislation warned that social media is contributing to low self-esteem, poor body image, eating disorders, thoughts of self-harm and suicide among youth.

In an interview, Adam Kovacevich, CEO of Chamber of Progress, a center-left tech coalition, said he agreed that the mental health findings about young people are “really alarming,” but called the Florida bill a “blunt hammer to the debate about social media and teens.”

Kovacevich pointed to Pew Research Center findings that teens generally view social media as a positive rather than a negative in their lives.

“I worry a little bit that the conversation about, particularly, teenagers and social media really lacks nuance and I think overlooks what teens’ actual experience is,” Kovacevich said.

He also challenged the notion that social media is addictive and invoked what opponents have dubbed Florida’s “don’t say gay” law, which restricts teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in schools.

“I think it’s probably really hard to be a marginalized teen in Florida right now, so this would just make social media less of a refuge for those teens,” Kovacevich said.

The sponsors of the legislation offered other statistics at the Capitol news conference. State Sen. Shevrin Jones (D), who on Tuesday introduced identical legislation in the Florida Senate, cited a 2019 UNICEF poll that showed that a third of young people in 30 countries reported being the victims of cyberbullying and that one in five skipped school as a result.