DeSantis is right about social media ban. This misguided idea deserves his veto | Opinion

Give Gov. Ron DeSantis some credit. He’s at least being consistent with his criticism of the Florida Legislature’s attempt to ban minors from social media.

If lawmakers gave parents the power to remove books and sue schools for talking about things like sexual orientation and race in ways that make them uncomfortable, shouldn’t they also give parents a say on the types of websites their child can access?

Just hours before the Legislature passed the bill to keep children under 16 from platforms that have “addicting features,” DeSantis said there were “legitimate issues that gotta be worked out” and that parents should be allowed to override the state’s heavy-handed ban.

The Legislature defied the governor and approved House Bill 1 anyway because it’s a priority of the House speaker.

DeSantis should veto HB 1, and not just to show lawmakers he’s still the dominant governor who’s controlled their agenda for the past two years — though there are questions on whether DeSantis has lost some of his power, and the Legislature could embarrass him by overriding his veto.

The legislation is a well-intended but misguided way to tackle the very real dangers that social media present to teens. It’s a no-brainer that those platforms deserve scrutiny, especially after a whistle-blower told Congress in 2021 that Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, knew its content harmed kids. But HB 1’s lack of “parental rights,” a concept that drove much of the legislation coming out of Florida recently, isn’t the only problem.

The U.S. Supreme Court is already listening to another Florida law that prohibited social media platforms from removing political candidates — and so far, justices appear skeptical of the law’s constitutionality.

If signed into law, HB 1 will no doubt also be headed to court, with social media companies arguing it is unconstitutional, costing taxpayer dollars to defend these lengthy lawsuits. Similar laws from other states have not fared well under legal scrutiny, with all of them blocked by judges.

That raises a valid point: Aren’t children and teens allowed freedom of expression under the First Amendment, especially if their parents allow it? There is no doubt that social media perpetuates unattainable beauty standards that hurt young girls’ self-esteem, makes cyberbullying more pervasive and that it is designed for non-stop scrolling. But social media also helps kids connect in ways that previous generations didn’t. It’s where they can find communities of like-minded people they might not have at home or school. Social media isn’t just for socializing; it’s an essential business tool that many kids will need to learn to enter the job market one day.

And, then, there is the question of the legislation’s practicality. For one, Republican House Speaker Paul Renner has said not all platforms would be affected by the ban unless they use “addicting features” — including infinite scrolling, displaying personal metrics such as likes, auto-playing video and livestreaming — but lawmakers have not said which sites would be affected. The most popular social media sites like Instagram and TikTok contain these same features.

Lawmakers either don’t understand the impacts of their own bill or they are being purposely coy in hopes of avoiding lawsuits from companies they name.

The bill would require social media companies to use third-party age verification software. Floridians of all ages would have to scan their face or show identification, which would be immediately deleted, to prove they’re over 16. When Nikki Haley floated the idea of identity verification for social media users on the presidential campaign trail, DeSantis, who was then running against her, blasted that idea — and many Floridians would balk at the requirement of having to prove who they are to some faceless verification software.

And there’s also the fact that, as the Herald/Times Bureau reported, judges have ruled that requiring personal identification to access the internet violates the Constitution.

Florida’s HB 1 means well, but it creates more issues than it solves. DeSantis, already skeptical about it, would be right to veto it.

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