FIRE: Gov. Ron DeSantis must veto social media censorship bill

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression urges Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto HB 1, a social media censorship bill that violates the First Amendment rights of all Floridians. 

HB 1 outright bans people under 16 from social media. This is as unconstitutional as would be a law that prohibited those under 16 from reading newspapers.

The courts have affirmed time and again that minors have strong First Amendment rights of their own, and young Floridians statewide use social media to communicate with friends and family, keep up with current events, and learn more about their world. HB 1’s sweeping prohibition on protected speech will not withstand constitutional scrutiny. Federal courts recently halted similar legislative attempts to ban minors from social media in Arkansas and Ohio. And in Utah, lawmakers quickly announced plans to revise their legislation restricting minors from social media after FIRE and others challenged it in court. 

HB 1’s broad ban on minors using social media isn’t the bill’s only constitutional defect. HB 1 requires all social media users — even adults — to verify their ages before creating an account, effectively preventing adults from communicating anonymously online and raising serious privacy concerns. The bill also requires age verification of anyone seeking to access lawful adult content online, imposing a chilling burden. Courts have invalidated similar restrictions on protected online speech on First Amendment grounds. HB 1’s age verification provisions would suffer the same fate.

We urge Gov. DeSantis to avoid wasting taxpayer dollars to defend a fatally flawed bill that violates the free speech rights of all Floridians. Protecting minors is a laudable goal. But the state cannot violate the First Amendment rights of Floridians to achieve it.

For more, see FIRE’s statement on age-based restrictions on social media access and our lawsuit challenging Utah’s age-verification law

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