Bill Requiring Warnings For Social Media Advances In Florida

Florida lawmakers on Monday advanced a controversial bill that would require social-media platforms to warn users under 18 that the platforms may harm their mental health.

The proposed bill would also require social-media companies to warn underage users that the platforms may have “addictive qualities” and “present unverified information.” Also, platforms would be obligated to warn minors that their data may be collected and shared.

HB 591 would additionally force platforms to disclose their content-moderation policies, whether they use so-called “addictive design” features -- such as autoplaying videos -- and whether they consider the “best interests” of users under 18, among other matters.

The tech industry organization NetChoice testified against the bill on Monday, arguing that it violates the First Amendment, in part because it requires online companies “to make disparaging characterizations of their services.

“HB 591 violates the First Amendment by compelling speech,” NetChoice said in testimony provided to the Florida House of Representatives Choice & Innovation Subcommittee.

The group added that the Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment limits the government's ability “to force individuals and companies to speak when they would prefer not to speak.”

NetChoice also said the proposed law is unconstitutionally vague, writing that key terms in the statute -- including “addictive and “best interests” -- aren't defined.

“It is unclear what feature is popular enough to be considered 'addictive' by future regulators, and unclear what disclosures of 'best interests' mean or require,” the group wrote.

NetChoice currently is suing Florida over a different social-media law -- a 2021 measure that includes provisions banning social media companies from “censoring,” “deplatforming,” and “shadow banning” journalistic enterprises, based on content. (That law was blocked by a trial judge and appellate court. Florida recently asked the Supreme Court to allow the law to be enforced.)

The policy group Chamber of Progress, funded by the tech industry, also testified against the new Florida proposal.

That organization noted that requirements to show disclaimers to users under 18 would also require the platforms to collect age-verification data -- which could pose a privacy threat.

“There is disagreement about the best methods for verifying users’ ages, but they could include techniques like facial recognition or other biometric scans,” Chamber of Progress told lawmakers. “Even less-invasive methods, like requiring users to enter their birthdate or ID in order to enter a site, would still require widespread data collection. These techniques would have to be used for every user, not just children, resulting in increased data collection for everyone on the internet.”

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