March 27, 2023
From Pensacola to Jacksonville and all the way down to the Keys, almost every child in Florida will do the same thing at one point today — log on to a social media platform. While social media has made the world smaller, increased connections, and given young people unparalleled access to the real and virtual world around them, it also poses significant threats to the physical and emotional well-being of children. As new research comes to light, state legislatures across the country, including here in Tallahassee, have begun to look for ways to keep children safe online.
While many of these proposals emerging from statehouses across the country are well-intentioned and seek to make children safer online, they all too often reject Florida’s North Star: personal responsibility and parental rights.
This legislative session, these principles have guided policymakers in Tallahassee as they grapple with the important question of how to keep Florida’s children safe when using social media platforms.
Currently, lawmakers are considering legislation from Sen. Danny Burgess and Rep. Brad Yeager that, if signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, would require public school students between grades 6 and 12 to take classes that cover the social, emotional and physical effects of social media. Included in these classes must be lessons on, for example, how children can report suspicious behavior, the dangers of misinformation, and the permanence of posts and how they can negatively affect individuals later in life.
The proposal would also require school districts to make any instructional material available to parents.
The benefits of these proposals are simple. First, educating students on the dangers of social media will ensure Florida’s public schools are graduating students to go out into the world with the skills and knowledge to navigate social media platforms safely while also enjoying the numerous benefits they offer. These proposals do not seek to remove students from these platforms but instead show them how to use the platforms safely.
Think drivers ed for social media.
Secondly, these proposals ensure parents have the ability to continue educating their children about the dangers of social media outside the classroom. Such requirements place parents at the forefront of their children’s education, not the government or school administrators.
The legislation would also ban students from accessing social media on school devices and school networks. After all, these devices and networks are provided to aid students in learning, not distract them from it.
When states ignore Florida’s North Star, they risk crafting legislation that, while well-intentioned, increases the power of government at the expense of citizens and makes the internet considerably less free.
Utah, for example, recently passed legislation that would require those under 18 to obtain parental consent to access social media. Proposals like Utah’s not only greatly expand the role of government but place state bureaucrats in between children and their parents. More dangerous is the fact that Utah’s ban makes it less likely that children will have the necessary skills to navigate social media safely when they age out of being covered. The result will be citizens at greater risk of falling victim to the perils of social media later in life.
Rejecting personal responsibility and forcing individuals to co-parent with the government simply isn’t the Florida way or even the American way.
As other states consider important online safety legislation to protect children, they could do worse than look at Rep. Yeager’s and Sen. Burgess’ proposals that skillfully balance the rights of parents and the tenets of limited government with the need to keep children safe on social media.
Were other states to follow Florida’s North Star, we could have a nation of social media-savvy children who safely use these powerful platforms and experience the numerous benefits they offer.