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Florida is ready to delete a popular app from school and government devices

A sample social media app interface on a mobile phone shows a teen in a cap dancing
Kaspars Grinvalds

The Biden Administration has ordered federal agencies to remove the TikTok social media platform from all government-issued devices, and it says steps could be taken to completely ban TikTok in the United States if the platform’s Chinese owners don’t sell it.

Now, the popular video service is the focus of several pieces of legislation getting bipartisan support in the Florida Legislature.

Florida A&M University in Tallahassee this month blocked TikTok from its campus wifi and school devices. Others, like the University of Florida and Florida State University, are considering doing the same.

Proposed legislation would go much further.

“It's an addictive spyware app that has no place on government devices. The FBI has issued a warning against using TikTok. 25 states, red and blue, have banned TikTok on state government devices,” Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, told lawmakers this week. He wants to join other states that have banned TikTok from all devices owned and issued by the government.

Burgess says his bill runs in tandem with separate proposals to restrict social media access in K through 12 public schools.

One version sponsored by Rep. Michelle Rayner-Goolsby, D-St. Petersburg, prohibits schools from requiring students to use social media for educational purposes. It also requires social media platforms to disclose certain policies and post a disclaimer about being addictive and potentially dangerous.

“It causes anxiety, depression, sleep disruption, unrealistic views on body types, bullying, harassment, deep fakes, trafficking, even suicide and other death,” she told lawmakers.

Rep. Brad Yeager, R-New Port Richey, similarly chimed in as lawmakers heard information about a separate bill he sponsors.

“According to Common Sense Media, by the age of 12, 69% of kids will own a smartphone, and 95% of all teenagers will access social media sites. This rise in social media use has shown an increase in cyberbullying as well as multiple impacts on mental health among kids,” he said.

Yeager's bill specifically bans TikTok on school district networks and devices, and it requires social media lessons. “It will educate 6th to 12th graders on the risk and dangers of social media on topics such as cyberbullying, predatory behavior, and human trafficking.”

The bill bans the use of TikTok for communicating information about school-related activities, a provision David Hicks doesn’t like. The Pasco County chemistry teacher told a House committee this week that his students, especially those involved in extracurricular clubs, rely on social media to communicate and to organize meetings.

"I understand about the evils of the internet and what is possibly out there," he said, noting that students have plenty of time away from school to access unsavory content. "We see them for maybe six or seven hours a day. They're outside accessing the internet and their social media far more hours outside of the classroom than inside of the classroom.”

The bill doesn’t go far enough for Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay. “I'm gonna vote yes. I'm tempted to vote no, and I'll tell you why.”

Fine says his own kids are evidence of the struggle parents have trying to limit the use of cell phones and social media.

“You're going to handle I think a lot of the problems in the schools," Fine said. "But it's what happens when they go home. It's what happens when they do what they do on the weekends. It's when you can sit and watch TikTok for hours and hours and hours and hours.”

Fine didn’t have suggestions for how to fix that problem in state law.

All of the proposals for the school social media restrictions and the TikTok ban on government devices are getting unanimous support in legislative committees so far.

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. Follow Gina: @hearyourthought on Twitter. Click below for Gina's full bio.