Florida’s Social Media Censorship Bill

March 19, 2024 Criminal Defense, Juvenile Offenses, Social Media

Page Updated April 30, 2024

A potential Florida bill has just one more stop before it legally prohibits minors from certain social media platforms. Referred to as HB 1, the initial proposed legislation passed in both the House and the Senate, meaning it only needed to be signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis before codified into law.

The bill is specifically targeting “social media platforms” that have addictive features for young adults, and to punish online platforms with civil penalties if they are accused of violating their terms.

As it’s being considered one of the strictest social media bans in the entire country, HB 1 has received backlash from opposing lawmakers, tech companies, and even the Florida Governor himself—resulting in a veto of HB 1. Many people are questioning which platforms will be banned from underage use, and if the penalties could potentially go further than just targeting the large media companies.

This blog post will provide helpful information on HB 1, its companion bill HB 3, and the legal changes made as it turns into a law.

What is HB 1?

Titled “Online Protections for Minors” HB 1 is the proposed bill by the Florida Legislature to prohibit the use of social media for minors under the age of 16-years-old.

If HB 1 is signed and passed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, it would provide the following new pieces of legislation:

  • Would require social media platforms to prevent any minors below the age of 16 from creating new social media accounts;
  • Would require social media platforms to terminate any existing accounts presumed to be held by minors younger than 16;
  • Would require social media platforms to use age verification methods to verify the ages of account holders, disclose policies, and provide the user with resources and disclaimers to their use;
  • Would allow the authorization of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act to bring civil action against social media platforms for any violations;
  • Provides the legal penalties for any legal violations of HB 1; and
  • Would declare that social media platforms that are accessible in Florida are subject to the jurisdiction of the State courts.

The Florida lawmakers aiming to make HB 1 into law have stressed the emphasis on making social media platforms change their addictive methods rather than forcing kids off online platforms and apps. The bill text emphasizes that online services, websites, or applications with the exclusive function of email or sending direct messaging that consists of text, images, or videos shared between a sender and a recipient will not be included in the prohibited platforms. 

Potential Consequences for Social Media Platforms

Under Section (3)(a) of HB1, any knowing or reckless violation of HB 1 will be deemed as an “unfair and deceptive trade practice” by a social media platform.

The Department could be able to collect a civil penalty of up to $50,000 per violation by the social media platform, on top of attorney and court fees. If the social media platform fails to comply with these regulations by showing a consistent pattern of knowing or reckless conduct, civil punitive damages may be assessed against the platform.

A third-party service that knowingly or recklessly performs age verification for a social media platform that is deemed an “unfair and deceptive trade practice” can also face consequences in the form of a civil penalty of up to $50,000 per violation.

Section (4)(a) would penalize a social media platform for their failure to terminate a minor’s account after being notified to do so by the minor or their parent or guardian. This scenario could result in the claimant being awarded up to $10,000 in damages.

Finally, any social media platform that is accused of having material that is harmful to minors can face civil penalties ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 per violation for each user under 18 allowed into the platform.

Opposition to HB 1

Despite HB 1 passing in a 108-7 vote in the House and a 23-14 vote in the Senate, the bill and its companion have continued to raise concerns over free speech, parental rights, and censorship.

A member with the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) gave the following comment in opposition of the bill’s passing:

“Although CCIA shares the concerns of lawmakers regarding the safety of children and teens online, HB 1 is not adequately tailored to this objective. It puts young Floridians at risk by restricting their First Amendment right to access information and forcing companies to collect additional sensitive data on internet users. We encourage Florida lawmakers to resist following the path of other states in enacting a law with significant constitutional concerns that risks facing similar legal challenges.”

A press release by members of the ACLU in Florida claimed that HB 1 is a “sweeping censorship bill aimed at stifling freedom of expression online.” The following is a statement provided by Kara Gross, the legislative director and senior policy counsel at ACLU in Florida:

“The age-verification requirements in HB 1 place barriers between users, whether they’re adults or minors, and their constitutional right to speak online…It’s troubling to see how unbothered Florida’s legislature is about undermining parental rights when it suits their interests. The government shouldn’t be controlling what ideas and information parents can allow their children to access. This bill does not help children or their parents – all it does is strip Floridians away of their constitutional rights…

To amplify what Floridians across the state have said: if our lawmakers truly care about the wellbeing of our children, they should do everything in their power to expand Medicaid access, protect minors from unsafe labor conditions, and ensure access to affordable housing for families. This law does nothing but chill speech and further restrict the rights of Floridians.”

Even Gov. DeSantis addressed his conflicting thoughts on the proposed bill. “I think, net, it’s harmful for them to be on some of those platforms that have certain functionality that is addictive. I agree with that,” DeSantis said during his Lake Buena Vista appearance. “But I also believe that parents need to have a role in this.”

DeSantis later added the following statement:

“I don’t think it [HB 1] is there yet. Hopefully we’ll be able to get there in a way that, I think, answers the concerns that a lot of folks have. Because I do think that parents are concerned about social media and what goes on there. And I do think they think it’s a problem. But I also think that for people in high school, it’s not as simple. I think you’ve got to have some parental involvement.”

Now that HB 1 has passed both the House and the Senate, it goes to DeSantis’ desk. The Florida Governor has seven days to either sign and pass the legislation or to veto it. Even if DeSantis does veto the bill, the legislative chambers could result in a two-thirds vote to override it.

Big Questions Remain Unanswered

One of the biggest questions surrounding HB 1 has remained unclear: what specific social media platforms will prohibit the use of minors under 16?

When looking at the bill’s text, a social media platform is considered an online forum, website, or an application offered by an entity which allows users to upload content or view the content or activity of other users that does any of the following:

  1. Uses an algorithm to analyze user data or information; or
  2. Has any of the following addictive features:
    1. Infinite scrolling with no apparent breaks;
    2. Push notifications or alerts sent by the online forum, website, or application to inform a user about specific activities or events related to the user’s account;
    3. Displays personal interactive metrics that indicate the number of times other users have clicked, liked, or reposted content;
    4. Auto-play video or videos that play without the need to press a play button; and
    5. Live-streaming or a function that allows a user or advertiser to broadcast live video content in real-time.

The bill has yet to any specific social media platforms the bill is targeting. However, it will look at applications or platforms that have 10% or more of its users who are 15 or younger and who spend an average of two hours or more on the platform.

Another important aspect not yet mentioned in the bill: What are the consequences for a minor who still attempts to use a prohibited social media platform? Will there be resulting civil or criminal penalties that can be brought against the minor or their parent or guardian?

It is impossible not to address the overwhelming use of social media platforms among young people. If HB 1 passes and minors still attempt to use social media, it is important for Floridians to be made aware of the potential implications of violating this proposed law.

If you have a child under the age of 16 who has been accused of any criminal violation, consider seeking the legal guidance of a Tallahassee defense attorney. The legal landscape for juveniles is often confusing and requires the knowledge of an experienced lawyer. The team with Pumphrey Law Firm can provide you with guidance and insight for any criminal allegation in Florida.

Update: HB 1 Vetoed by DeSantis

It was announced on March 1, 2024, that Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed HB 1 from turning into law. Within the same week, the Supreme Court heard challenges to the existing legislation in both Florida and Texas regarding blocked social media companies and limited speech online. A law from 2021 restricted big social media companies like Facebook and Instagram from having the power to pick which content they can promote.

Part of the reason HB 1 was vetoed was due to the lack of parental input included within the proposed bill. “As much as I think it’s harmful to have people on these social media platforms for five or six hours a day, a parent can supervise a kid to use it more sparingly,” DeSantis said.

Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, who spearheaded HB 1, explained that the consequences of social media should be taken a closer look at. “As well as the far too easy access for young kids and I mean like six years old, to access hardcore pornography,” Renner said. “The rules for adults are for adults, but for kids, that’s not appropriate.”

As the bill has been vetoed, lawmakers can attempt to rework its language and context. However, the big issue for the U.S. Supreme Court that remains is whether it is possible to regulate social media companies as a private entity.

“At what point does a law become so generalized?” said Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who believes that Florida may be pushing its legal limits. “The law is so broad and unspecific, you bare the burden of coming in and telling us exactly what the sweep is.”

The following statement is from Gov. DeSantis’ X account regarding his reason for vetoing HB 1:

“I have vetoed HB 1 because the Legislature is about to produce a different, superior bill. 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 recognize these priorities and will be signed into law soon.”

Update: DeSantis Signs Social Media Censorship Companion Bill

Florida’s landmark social media censorship bill was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 25, 2024. The new law makes Florida the first state to ban minors under the age of 14 from obtaining a social media account with popular apps such as TikTok and Instagram. DeSantis’ move to veto HB 1 and replace it with companion bill HB 3 was due to the statutory language—specifically adding provisions to allow minors between 14-15 to hold a social media account, but only with their parents’ permission.

During Monday’s press conference, DeSantis claimed that the new measure will help parents navigate the “difficult terrain” of the online world. The Florida Governor added that young people “being buried” in their devices all day long is an unhealthy way of growing up.

“Social media harms children in a variety of ways,” DeSantis said, adding that the new bill will “give parents a greater ability to protect their children.”

However, the report by the New York Times finds that Florida will almost certainly face backlash and constitutional challenges over the new law. The main issue being presented is the issue of censoring young people’s rights to freely seek information online, as well as online companies’ rights to distribute information to them.

Several states have already had less-restrictive laws regarding online safety halted by federal judges due to free speech grounds. In both Ohio and Arkansas, judges blocked proposed laws attempting to verify users’ ages online if they are under 16 or 18, and then preventing them from obtaining an online account. Additionally, a potential law in California to require social networks and video game apps to turn on the highest privacy standards for minors has been halted as well.

For social sites like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, there are already existing policies under the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act to prohibit the creation of new accounts by minors under 13. However, state regulators found that there have been millions of underage children still capable of signing up for social media simply by providing a false birth date.

In addition to the age restrictions for making or maintaining a social media account for minors under 14, the measures under new Florida Statute Section 501.1736 will also require online pornography services to use age-verification systems to keep minors off those types of sites.

The new social media censorship laws go into effect January 1, 2025.

Contact a Juvenile Defense Attorney with Pumphrey Law

Although HB 1 does not specify any criminal penalties, it is important for Florida citizens to be made aware of the implications that can arise if this does pass into law. Any limitations to free speech are always concerning. Contact a defense attorney with Pumphrey Law Firm if you have any legal questions or concerns. Our team of Tallahassee Juvenile defense attorneys have years of experience representing those wrongfully accused of crimes. We can provide you with a free consultation regarding a criminal case when you call (850) 681-7777 or send us an online message

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