Florida braces for lawsuits over law banning kids from social media

On Monday, Florida became the first state to ban kids under 14 from social media without parental permission. It appears likely that the law—considered one of the most restrictive in the US—will face significant legal challenges, however, before taking effect on January 1.

Under HB 3, apps like Instagram, Snapchat, or TikTok would need to verify the ages of users, then delete any accounts for users under 14 when parental consent is not granted. Companies that “knowingly or recklessly” fail to block underage users risk fines of up to $10,000 in damages to anyone suing on behalf of child users. They could also be liable for up to $50,000 per violation in civil penalties.

In a statement, Florida governor Ron DeSantis said the “landmark law” gives “parents a greater ability to protect their children” from a variety of social media harm. Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, who spearheaded the law, explained some of that harm, saying that passing HB 3 was critical because “the Internet has become a dark alley for our children where predators target them and dangerous social media leads to higher rates of depression, self-harm, and even suicide.”

But tech groups critical of the law have suggested that they are already considering suing to block it from taking effect.

In a statement provided to Ars, a nonprofit opposing the law, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) said that while CCIA “supports enhanced privacy protections for younger users online,” it is concerned that “any commercially available age verification method that may be used by a covered platform carries serious privacy and security concerns for users while also infringing upon their First Amendment protections to speak anonymously.”

“This law could create substantial obstacles for young people seeking access to online information, a right afforded to all Americans regardless of age,” Khara Boender, CCIA’s state policy director, warned. “It’s foreseeable that this legislation may face legal opposition similar to challenges seen in other states.”

Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel for Netchoice—a trade association with members including Meta, TikTok, and Snap—went even further, warning that Florida’s “unconstitutional law will protect exactly zero Floridians.”

Szabo suggested that there are “better ways to keep Floridians, their families, and their data safe and secure online without violating their freedoms.” Democratic state house representative Anna Eskamani opposed the bill, arguing that “instead of banning social media access, it would be better to ensure improved parental oversight tools, improved access to data to stop bad actors, alongside major investments in Florida’s mental health systems and programs.

Netchoice expressed “disappointment” that DeSantis agreed to sign a law requiring an “ID for the Internet” after “his staunch opposition to this idea both on the campaign trail” and when vetoing a prior version of the bill.

“HB 3 in effect will impose an ‘ID for the Internet’ on any Floridian who wants to use an online service—no matter their age,” Szabo said, warning of invasive data collection needed to verify that a user is under 14 or a parent or guardian of a child under 14.

“This level of data collection will put Floridians’ privacy and security at risk, and it violates their constitutional rights,” Szabo said, noting that in court rulings in Arkansas, California, and Ohio over similar laws, “each of the judges noted the similar laws’ constitutional and privacy problems.”

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