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Social media bans for kids would violate their constitutional rights, some argue

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has vetoed legislation that would ban social media accounts for children under the age of 16, but the issue isn't going away. DeSantis, a Republican, expects lawmakers to send him a revised version soon. He says it's important to protect children, involve parents and still allow adults to engage in anonymous speech. This comes as similar measures in other states face legal challenges. Valerie Crowder of WUSF has more.

VALERIE CROWDER, BYLINE: On the same day 12-year-old Noah Raymond and his classmates were on a field trip at the Florida State Capitol, a proposed ban on social media for kids had advanced through the legislature.

NOAH RAYMOND: I have practically all the social medias - Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and a few others. I use it every single day. I think it's amazing. You get to see what other people get to do.

CROWDER: What do you like about social media?

NOAH: Memes.

CROWDER: Florida is just one of many states that are trying to restrict access to social media platforms for children. State leaders have criticized features that can make social media habit-forming, like infinite scrolling and algorithms that show content based on people's interests. The U.S. Surgeon General has warned that misuse of social media can increase the risk of children developing mental health issues, like eating disorders, anxiety and depression. Other potential dangers include cyberbullying, online predators and inappropriate material.

In addition to banning accounts for children under 16, Florida's legislative leaders had proposed requiring social media platforms to verify that new users are actually the age they say they are. Governor Ron DeSantis, who's touted himself as a champion of parental rights, said last week it's a delicate balance.

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RON DESANTIS: I've always said I think social media is a net negative for kids. Same time, we're somebody that's believed in involving parents as much as possible.

CROWDER: But there's currently no age verification involved when kids try to make social media accounts, something the Florida bill and others like it aim to address. Greg Gonzalez is from FIRE, a group focused on protecting free speech. He says these types of bills are unconstitutional.

GREG GONZALEZ: It would require age verification for every Floridian trying to access social media sites. Courts have consistently struck that down as overly burdensome on First-Amendment-protected speech.

CROWDER: Federal courts have temporarily blocked social media regulations for children in Arkansas, Ohio and California. NetChoice, a trade association that advocates for tech giants, including Meta and TikTok, has filed lawsuits in those states. Carl Szabo is the association's general counsel.

CARL SZABO: It is unconstitutional to try and ban access to the internet, ban access to information, ban access to speech for somebody just based on their age.

CROWDER: And, Szabo says, age verification requirements can have a chilling effect on adults who might not want to share their personal information when setting up an account.

SZABO: By doing ID for the internet, which is essentially what we're talking about here, you're telling everyone, regardless of age - you could be 66, or you could be 16 - that you may not speak; you may not access content unless you turn over massive amounts of information.

CROWDER: That's part of the ongoing debate in Florida and around the country as states try to balance constitutional rights with concerns about protecting children. For NPR News, I'm Valerie Crowder in Tallahassee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Valerie Crowder