Should TX Deny Most Minors Social Media Access?

Teenager on smartphone
Teenager on smartphone | Image by Marina Demidiuk/Getty Images

A law preventing minors under 14 from social media access was recently enacted in Florida, and an influential Texas jurist thinks his state should follow suit.

As covered by The Dallas Express, the bill signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 25 bans minors under the age of 14 from maintaining social media accounts and requires individuals aged 14 and 15 years to obtain parental consent to log on. Supporters of the ban claim it will empower parents and protect children from online predators.

“It used to be, ‘Well, if they’re out somewhere, maybe they’re not supervised, maybe some predator can strike,’” DeSantis said as he signed the bill into law last month, per the New York Post. “Now, with things like social media and all this, you can have a kid in the house — safe, seemingly — and then you have predators that can get right in there — into your own home.”

Rob Henneke, executive director and general counsel of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), showed his support for Florida’s ban the day DeSantis signed it. He shared the New York Post story on X, commenting, “Great idea.” He encouraged the Texas Legislature to “do the same thing in 2025.”

The Dallas Express spoke with Henneke, who once served as an assistant attorney general in Texas, about the reason for and legal soundness of Florida’s social media age restriction, which will likely be challenged in the courts, as has been the case for similar legislation passed in Arkansas.

One point of contention is that it would require social media companies to gather personal information to verify users’ ages. Its language seeks to alleviate such concerns by requiring “anonymous age verification” conducted by a “nongovernmental, independent third party.”

In explaining why such a law might be reasonable and prudent, Henneke likened the internet to “one big convenience store.”

“There’s a reason when you walk in and you buy a case of beer or pack of cigarettes or a lottery ticket or a pornography magazine, you have the cashier there to check your ID. Because it’s a longstanding legitimate role of government to protect children from harmful activities,” he told DX.

Henneke noted that TPPF has been fighting to pass a social media ban for minors in Texas for years, having endorsed a 2022 bill to do just that. Zach Whiting, the think tank’s tech policy director, argued that year such laws are necessary because social media purportedly causes severe behavioral compulsions and addictions in the very young. Even though the proposed legislation did not pass, Texas did adopt a law requiring more parental controls.

Speaking about the limited bill that became law, Henneke said, “It was not as far as we wanted. Now, maybe since Florida has taken the lead, Texas will revisit. I think you’re going to see a lot of states do this.”

However, critics of the law, like Michael McGrady of Techdirt, say that mandatory age verification requirements would seriously harm users’ rights to privacy and anonymity online.

That was also the position of the ACLU when it argued against the bill’s adoption.

“The age-verification requirements in HB 3 place barriers between users, whether they’re adults or minors, and their constitutional right to speak online,” said the ACLU’s legislative director, Kara Gross. “Age verification requirements blatantly chill speech and threaten the privacy of adults by requiring them to surrender their anonymity to engage in constitutionally protected speech.”

As DX reported at the time, former UN ambassador Nikki Haley drew sharp criticism from free speech advocates when, as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, she argued for doing away with anonymity online to oppose those pushing violence and advocating for genocide.

To some, the Florida law looks a lot like Haley’s proposal that every account be connected to real names and IDs.

“Ron DeSantis attacked Nikki Haley for her social media ID/real name proposal (she deserved it)… but by forcing social media companies to host any and all legal content like the law in Florida he championed, he’s basically pushing for the same thing,” wrote Patrick Hedger, executive director at Taxpayers Protection Alliance, in an X post about the proposed bill back in January.

But Henneke claimed that the Florida law and Haley’s proposal advance fundamentally different ideas.

“[Haley] wanted to get rid of the anonymous posting. She wasn’t addressing the ownership” of the account, he said.

Support our non-profit journalism

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Continue reading on the app
Expand article