Ron DeSantis’s Social Media Bill – Good or Bad?

Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, recently signed legislation drafted by the Republican Florida legislature that would ban the usage of Social Media for minors under the age of 14 and only allow 14 and 15 year olds to hold social media accounts with the consent of parents.   While the bill allows sites exclusively for messaging, the bill does not list any specific websites, instead defining “social media” as sites with “infinite scrolling,” “like” buttons, auto play videos, streaming and push notifications.  The intention of the bill is to “give parents a greater ability to protect their children,” and to safeguard minors from the dangers of social media, such as depression, anxiety, and even online predators.

It is well established from numerous studies that social media can indeed be harmful to young children, with the aforementioned effects being extremely prevalent. Due to this, it does seem reasonable to restrict the access of minors to platforms that could impede their mental health and development, or put them in danger with an online predator. It must be noted that the bill only completely bans children under the age of 14, an age at which many are either very new to social media (Snapchat, Instagram, etc.) or don’t have it at all. A Yale Medicine study finds that teens aged 12-15 have twice the chance of developing a negative mental health issue when spending over 3 hours a day on social media. Therefore, the bill is certainly well-intentioned, and will likely have a positive effect on children.

Despite it’s intentions, the bill does have a very vague definition of “social media.” From the definition the bill gives, sites like YouTube would be banned unlike Snapchat, an app exclusively for messaging. However, the likelihood of a child coming into contact with a predator, being bullied, or becoming depressed or anxious is much more likely to happen from an app like Snapchat rather than YouTube, a site that many children watch for pure entertainment, as they would cartoons. It would be in DeSantis’s interest and the people of Florida’s interest for the bill to list specific companies, apps, etc that it has deemed as dangerous or name websites that it has deemed as safe.

Critics of the bill, mainly major social media companies such as Meta as well as some Democratic politicians, say that the First Amendment is being violated and that parents should have full control over their children’s social media presence at all ages and not the government.  Democratic Florida House of Representatives member Anna Eskamani says, “This bill goes too far in taking away parents’ rights…it would be better to ensure improved parental oversight tools.” There is an interesting point to be made here, given that the government is essentially forcing parents to not allow social media. This is doubly interesting given that Ron DeSantis has been very vocal in the past regarding parents’ rights and how they should be increased, despite this bill seemingly stripping away some of that parental freedom. However, given how negative the effects of social media can be on a developing mind, one could liken the banning of social media to the banning of gambling for minors. Gambling, like social media, is an activity used for entertainment that also has numerous negative side effects, including addiction (which can happen to a degree with social media). Technically, it could be argued that it should be the parent’s choice whether or not to let their child gamble, which would include activities such as sports betting. However, given the immense risk and possible danger the child is put in, there is a law banning such gambling for minors.  While social media may not have as direct an effect on minors, the medical correlation between depression and social media has become very strong. Therefore, given that the risks outweigh the benefits, there is now a law preventing social media use by minors.

In conclusion, the bill addresses an extremely prevalent issue affecting minors and strives to improve the development and childhood of Floridians. However, the vagueness of the bill as related to what is being banned leads questions to be asked about how far the bill will go, and if it will go too far.

6.5/10 Bill- needs work

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