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Understanding Florida's New Online Protection Law for Minors: What You Need to Know

On March 25, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 3, a bill that will give parents of teens aged 14 and 15 more control over accessing social media. HB 3 received overwhelming bipartisan support in both branches of the Florida Legislature. It passed 109-4 in the Florida House and 30-5 in the Florida Senate. The bill requires parent or guardian consent for many websites in order to create and maintain an account, and requires social platforms to delete an account and the personal information provided of that age group at the teen or parent's request.

Companies that fail to promptly delete accounts belonging to 14- and 15-year-olds can be sued on behalf of those kids and may owe them up to $10,000 in damages each. A “knowing or reckless” violation could also be considered an unfair or deceptive trade practice, subject to up to $50,000 in civil penalties per violation.

Group of teens using cell phones

The bill also requires many commercial apps and websites to verify their user's age, something that raises privacy concerns as well as the fact that minors can easily bypass that obstacle by providing a fake birth date. However, it does require websites to give users the option of “anonymous age verification,” which is defined as verification by a third party that cannot retain identifying information after the task is complete.

The governor vetoed an earlier bill that would have banned social media accounts for kids under 16. “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,” DeSantis tweeted on the day he vetoed the earlier bill.

Even though HB 3 has bipartisan support, the bill has also received criticism from 1st Amendment advocacy groups and companies. A company advocating for freedom of speech and privacy, NetChoice, asked DeSantis to veto the measure, stating that it would violate First Amendment rights. Another industry company, Computer & Communications Industry Association, seconds opposition to the bill and its proposed protection for minors.

"An unconstitutional law will protect exactly zero Floridians,” Carl Szabo, NetChoice’s vice president and general counsel, said in a statement. “HB 3 is also bad policy because of the data collection on Floridians by online services it will in effect require. This will put their private data at risk of breach.”

With support and opposition alike, we can only hope a measure like this is a stepping stone in the right direction for protecting minors from online groomers. Instead of voicing outrage with no input to solutions, there needs to be more discussions on problem-solving to protect our children from online dangers, against both adverse mental health conditions and predators.


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