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DeSantis vetoes blanket under-16 social media ban

Lawmakers offer to give parents more control


GAINESVILLE — On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the Legislature’s proposed ban on social media for anyone under 16 even with a parent’s consent. Lawmakers responded by starting work on an alternative giving parents control whether their 14 and 15 year olds can use the online platforms.

“Protecting children from harms associated with social media is important, as is supporting parents' rights,” DeSantis wrote on Facebook.

He said he was anticipating a “superior” new bill will be passed soon by lawmakers, who were battling the clock with just days remaining in the year’s legislative session. The compromise in the Capitol avoids the specter of an effort by Republican lawmakers to override the governor’s veto.

The new measure, introduced in an amendment by Sen. Erin Grall, R-Fort Pierce, would restrict social media for all kids under 14 while allowing 14- and 15-year-olds to use social platforms if they have parental consent.

The new legislation emerged after negotiations between DeSantis and House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, on Monday. The vetoed bill had been a priority for Renner and was approved by the Senate on a 23-14 vote and by the House on a 108-7 vote later the same day.

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, had said the negotiations over the new bill were “in a really good spot”  at a press conference on Thursday.

With the addition of the parental consent provision, the bill now has similar language to other bills across the U.S. that are currently blocked by federal courts, such as Ohio’s Social Media Parental Notification Act. Passidomo said the Legislature can avoid the same fate.

“I think it’s how you craft the language,” she said. “And they’re crafting some language that they feel will pass constitutional muster.”

DeSantis had recently raised concerns about the legality of the earlier measure and also expressed concern teens under 16 would face a blanket ban on social media when some of them make appropriate use of it. The governor said parents should have the right to control what their 14 and 15 year olds are doing online. 

DeSantis’ veto of the more restrictive bill came amid concerns from parents across the state over the lack of parental freedoms.

Raegan Miller, a 48-year-old accountant from St. Petersburg, Florida, remembers sitting down with her 14-year-old daughter, Lane, for a serious conversation about social media. Lane had asked for permission to open an Instagram account when she started high school last fall. Though Miller was hesitant, she decided it was the right time to allow her daughter to access the world of social media while educating her on proper use of the platforms.

“She and I had a lot of conversations about how people can be exposed to content harmful to them,” Miller said. “I told her, ‘You’re not going to sit in your room and endlessly scroll,’ and I made it clear we were going to be intentional with the way we use social media.”

Miller believed that the blanket ban the Legislature passed did not take parents into consideration. She said she frequently checks through all the posts and comments on her daughter’s page, and noted how her daughter has benefitted from social media.

“She’s very involved in theater,” Miller said. “She could use social media for her personal branding and to further her desire to have a career in the performing arts.” 

Similarly, Nancy Lawther, legislation chair for the Florida Parent Teacher Association, said the vetoed bill would have trampled on the wishes of parents.

“This is an issue that strikes so close to the heart of many families,” Lawther said. “We think it is going in the wrong direction in terms of not involving parents.”

The Florida PTA recently launched a letter-writing campaign calling on DeSantis to veto the bill. Lawther said parents were encouraged to share personal stories on how the bill might affect them and their children.

“There is a very strong feeling that parents need to be in charge of what happens in their own home,” Lawther said. “With this bill, whatever they thought would be best for their child would be preempted by the state.”

Kristian Wydysh, a 16-year-old junior at North Fort Myers High, said that he has used social media throughout high school for his professional development, such as creating posts as political director for the student-led mental health nonprofit Minds Without Borders.

“I use social media accounts to not only run my school club Instagrams, but to also push out and advocate for what I believe in,” Wydysh said. “Without social media and the freedom to use social media, I think that a lot of clubs in high schools would flounder.”

Wydysh’s grandmother, Donna Wydysh, a 72-year-old community association property manager, said she had opposed the blanket ban because she felt it was an overreach on her rights to educate her grandchildren. She said that besides Kristian, she has other grandchildren under 16 who use Snapchat and who would have been affected by the full ban.

“I don’t believe the government has any right to interject into what is a parent’s responsibility,” Donna Wydysh said. “If I give my child a phone, I’m going to be monitoring that phone. It’s not up to the government to say, ‘Oh no, you can’t go into that site.’ It’s up to me. You have a right as a parent to decide what is wrong or right for your own child.”

Moms for Liberty, a conservative political organization, also voiced its opposition to the bill. Tiffany Justice, the organization’s co-founder, said the lack of parental authorization was a major concern for her. 

“Parents have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing of their children,” she said. “When we’re making laws, fundamental rights must always prevail. That’s just the bottom line.”

This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at erina.anwar@ufl.edu. You can donate to support our students here.


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  • san.gander

    When the content of this bill was actually made known... that PARENTS were not allowed to be the final arbiter of what social media their children could have - that the GOVERNMENT would have that control! Then and only then was it too much, even for the DeSantis crowd! Remember, they. are always harping on parental rights, as they divert taxpayer public school money to religious and private schools. This under the guise of claiming "parental choice", even if the school's curriculum is un-American in the principles they instill into little minds.

    I point out that parents may send their children to a religious or private schools for different reasons: 1) They want to instill the moral values of that religion, and they absolutely believe that their religion is the "only correct and true one" and requires it; 2) The school may actually have a better academic program than publicly funded schools; 3) and then, there are parents who don't want their child to mix with common folk, riff-raff, or especially, other races... as will happen in public schools - class-ism, racism. The last is known to be a true - remember the private "all white" academies and schools that sprang up in the south after integration became the law for public education.

    Segregation itself is now supported by public taxpayer money diverted from funds for public schools - the voucher system. But that's another story... to long to tell here.

    Sunday, March 3 Report this