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A bipartisan group of lawmakers is raising concerns about the danger of social media

Anna Jones
WFSU Public Media

Experts warn digital technology and social media are having a negative impact on children’s mental health.

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras is an expert on mental health and addiction. He recently warned Florida lawmakers social media use could start negatively impacting children at a very young age.

“If you drop a tablet into the crib or into a two, or three-year-old’s lap you’ll quiet them. The digital babysitter works really great. They’ll be hyper-focused on that screen but when you take it away they become very distracted now they depend on the bells and whistles to remain focused, and now you’ve created an ADHD profile,” Kardaras said.

Kardaras, said he’s seeing what he views as “red flags” among kids who use social media on a daily basis.

“Borderline personality disorders were rising and what was interesting was that as you looked at the mental health metrics across generational if you look from Baby Boomer, Gen X, to Millennial and Gen Z the most unwell are the younger the cohort the more psychiatrically unwell they are—the higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide,” Kardaras said.

Sen. Rosalind Osgood (D-Broward) is a former school board member. She is concerned about what she has seen and read about what kids have access to on social media platforms.

“It is just a lot of cyberbullying a lot of hardship. Many children literally end up trying to commit suicide,” Osgood said.

Bipartisan fight against dangers of social media

Two lawmakers are coming together to do something about it. Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby (D-St. Petersburg) and Rep. Tyler Sirois (R-Brevard) have introduced a bill to require social media platforms to increase their disclosures and strengthen content moderation. Platforms that fail to meet the requirements would be blocked from accepting new accounts from minors. The bill also prevents public schools from requiring students to register, enroll, or participate in social media platforms for educational purposes.

“I think this bill will help students—especially those under 18. It will provide guardrails and protections. A lot of times we see students getting bullied at school and students who are seeing things on social media that is not reality. It is distracting them from school and having a severe mental health effect on them,” Rayner-Goolsby said.

Khara Boender is the State Policy Director at the Computer & Communications Industry Association out of Washington, D.C. She said the bill maybe well intended, but difficult to enforce at a state level.

“The bill does raise questions regarding compliance ability. The bill includes several vague definitions or lack of key definitions. For example, the bill doesn’t define what a social media platform is nor does it define minor which makes it difficult to determine who is subject of the bill’s provisions and presents challenges for how businesses can comply,” Boender said.

Gov. DeSantis has other concerns about TikTok

Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is taking an aim at TikTok amid growing concerns that the platform is dangerous to children, and ongoing suspicions that it feeds user information to China where it originated.

“TikTok that they use in China is much different than what they are trying to do in the United States. With China, it is all very wholesome and patriotic in the United States they are trying to inject as much garbage into this as possible. They're getting the data from people and it creates a huge security risk through our country,” Desantis said.

The governor’s administration is looking to curb access to that site on government Wi-Fi. It comes after the University of Florida said it would block the site on its campus.

“In terms of protecting minors and children from online harm we are going to prevent businesses from knowingly selling or sharing a minor’s consumer's personal information without [the] affirmative consent of the parent or guardian. We are going to allow a minor consumer's parent or guardian to access, delete, or correct the minor's personal information. We’re going to prohibit the unauthorized collection use or sharing a student’s PII obtained from online programs at school,” Desantis said.
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Brendan Brown
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