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Florida social media ban

Florida social media ban | How about we age-restrict the plus-50s, too?

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

02/10/2024

Can’t say I have much argument with the idea of a Florida social media ban. The idea is to protect Florida folks, specifically kids under 16, from the dregs of social media.

Whether it’s Facebook, the platform of choice for old people; Twitter-now-X thanks to Elon; Beijing-based TikTok, the home for influencers and cat videos; and Instagram, YouTube or, heck, Truth Social, social media have skewed the ways we think.

Though it might seem social media have been around forever, few of us had a clue back in the late 2000s when Facebook and MySpace fought an epic battle for control of our friends. Facebook won, in case you’re living in a cave without internet or reading this in print. How delightfully old-fashioned of you.

In the two decades since, social media have given us recipes and pictures of our grandchildren, taught us how to block high school friends who’ve gone to the dark side, pushed fake and real news so prodigiously that all too many of us can’t tell the difference and, sadly, don’t care. Social media bullying is now an art form, sending folks down dark holes at the bottom of which is despair at best, suicide at worst.

We even have a new word for that: cyberbullying. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that almost 15 percent of adolescents have been cyberbullied and more than 13 percent have made a serious suicide attempt.

Cyberbullies come in all stripes. Kids on kids. Adults with anger management issues and too much time on their hands. Political trolls, both human and bots. Social media, with their anything-goes, virtually anonymous culture, are the playground for inescapable crazies.

I know many of them well.

Florida social media ban

Florida social media ban | What could happen?

I’ve had a love-hate affair with social media since the mid-1990s, when the Rockford (IL) Register Star launched its bulletin board service that encouraged folks to share poetry, sports, recipes and news among themselves. Users could participate in live Q&As with local political types — and comment freely. Most of our forums were innocuous and fun. Until they weren’t, and we had to ban the bullies. Eventually we had to prosecute a handful of teenagers who hijacked the system. I learned a lot back then about the great potential of social media — and the terrible flip side of unfettered, anonymous speech.

So, yeah, I understood when the Florida legislature opened its 2024 session with its we-gotta-do-something bandwagon.

Two bills (House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1792) are swiftly making their ways through the legislative hoops and are expected to arrive in some form on the governor’s desk. The final bill would take effect this year on July 1.

Called “Age Verification for Social Media Accounts,” the legislation requires Florida social media account users to prove they’re at least 16 years old. If you fail to provide proof, the social media platform owner must deny the account. Anyone under 16 would be forbidden from opening or maintaining an account even with parental permission.

Wait. What? To use my Facebook account, I’ve got to prove my birthdate? Why, of course, say the bills’ sponsors. We want to protect you. Now, this proving of my age isn’t the simple, trusting, worthless “check here if you’re over 18,” which is the way most websites do it. Nope.

Age verification, says the legislature, has to be with government-style documents. Driver’s license. Birth certificate. You know, the kinds of things that contain way more information than you’re inclined to hand over to Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, much less the owners of TikTok or Truth Social.

The platform owners are supposed to delete that information as soon as verification occurs, but we know how that’ll go, right?

The sponsors also want big disclaimers on social media sites that read like this: “This application may be harmful to your mental health and may use design features that have addictive qualities or present unverified information or that may be manipulated by [insert platform name] or others for your viewing. This application may also collect your personal data to further manipulate your viewable content and may share your personal data with others.”

Well, OK, then. How ’bout we do age verification for the over-50 crowd, too, and not let them have social media accounts? I’d say a healthy chunk of us are less prepared than our teenage grandchildren to manage the vagaries of social media.

Chances are good the legislation never gets enacted, mostly because it’s got a ton of holes, a bucket of vague definitions and, oh, yes, it’s likely unconstitutional. But these days, who knows? I do know the Florida legislature has more important things to be doing than jumping into a social media culture war. Like fixing property insurance for starters.

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