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Florida lawmakers consider bill to ban kids under age 16 from apps like TikTok

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Several state legislatures are considering bills that would ban kids and teens from social media. That's amid concerns about mental health and safety online. In Florida, lawmakers want to ban kids under age 16 from having accounts on apps like Twitter and TikTok and Snapchat. The proposal raises questions about how much state governments can do to regulate kids' digital lives. Adrian Andrews from member station WFSU reports.

ADRIAN ANDREWS, BYLINE: Matthew Grocholske is a 19-year-old student at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. He says he struggled with depression and anxiety as a kid, but he found community online.

MATTHEW GROCHOLSKE: Social media always was a vessel for me. It was always something that I could use to just get through some really hard times.

ANDREWS: Grocholske loves Snapchat for sharing pictures and videos, chatting with his friends and endlessly scrolling through content.

GROCHOLSKE: I met really good friends online and not too many in person primarily just because I was kind of isolated.

ANDREWS: A bill working through the Florida Legislature would delete social media accounts owned by users under the age of 16. It would target apps that have certain features like autoplay and photo manipulation. Republican State Representative Tyler Sirois is one of the sponsors of the bill. He says kids are vulnerable and social media companies are taking advantage of them.

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TYLER SIROIS: That's their business model. And why do they do it? To keep them hooked with the dopamine hits that these platforms give our children with every autoplay, with every like, with every push notification.

ANDREWS: Supporters of the bill say social media is too addictive for kids. Dr. Mitch Prinstein with the American Psychological Association says screen time and the like button can work like a drug, especially to young people.

MITCH PRINSTEIN: Kids are really interested in connecting with their peers, getting positive information from them or praise, and it feels really good. It's the same kind of reaction to getting an illegal substance.

ANDREWS: There is bipartisan support in Congress to regulate social media for kids, but federal lawmakers so far haven't agreed on a national standard. Meanwhile, state legislatures across the country are pushing to limit young people online. A ban in Arkansas would have required anyone under age 18 to get parental permission to create a social media account, but a federal court ruled the law was a burden on free speech.

CAULDER HARVILL-CHILDS: There are some significant data privacy concerns and constitutionality concerns related to the age verification portions of this bill.

ANDREWS: Caulder Harvill-Childs is the public policy manager for Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram. He says as it's currently written, Florida's bill won't survive a legal challenge, and it would be incredibly difficult for the company to verify ages for its hundreds of millions of users.

HARVILL-CHILDS: Everyone would be required to submit some form of identification, whether it be a government ID, driver's license, passport or, you know, a biometric scan, if you will, of their face to do an age estimate in order for them to access a social media app.

ANDREWS: Florida college student Matthew Grocholske says he understands lawmakers are just trying to keep children safe. But he worries a social media ban would suppress the voice of an entire generation.

GROCHOLSKE: There's some great ideas that are behind the bill, but in reality, you're really just leading to more censorship of kids in America.

ANDREWS: Florida's bill has already passed out of the state House of Representatives, but lawmakers are still considering changes. For NPR News, I'm Adrian Andrews in Tallahassee.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTOR CITY DRUM ENSEMBLE'S "THE STRANGER" 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.

Adrian Andrews