California’s amended social media addiction Bill clears first hurdle

Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
4 min read

A California bill seeking to hold social media companies legally responsible for addicting young users to their platforms advanced, clearing an initial hurdle after it was amended to allow lawsuits only by public prosecutors.

The legislation, which has drawn strong opposition from the tech industry, would prohibit companies such as Meta Platforms Inc., Snap Inc., TikTok Inc. and Google from designing social media to hook users younger than 18 years old and provides for penalties of up to $250,000 for each violation.

For the latest headlines, follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

Tuesday’s 8-0 vote by a Senate committee in the state capitol in Sacramento is just the first of several needed to get the measure on the desk of California Governor Gavin Newsom. As introduced in February by Nancy Skinner, a Democratic senator whose district is in Berkeley and Oakland, the bill would have let parents sue the companies within four years of alleged harms.

But Skinner agreed during Tuesday’s hearing to a revision that authorizes only the state’s attorney general and local district attorneys to file suits. A similar proposal died in the legislature last year amid fierce resistance from the industry.

The legislative action comes as parents and school districts have filed scores of lawsuits claiming social media is causing a mental health crisis among children and adolescents. The companies have said in response that they are offering more resources to keep children safe online, while also arguing that the lawsuits improperly seek to regulate content.

“We’ve developed more than 30 tools to support teens and families, including tools that let parents and teens work together to limit the amount of time teens spend on Instagram, and age verification technology that helps teens have age-appropriate experiences,” Meta said in statement.

SB 287 would build on existing privacy and software design laws to require companies to perform quarterly audits to guarantee their social media aren’t addicting kids. The bill penalizes companies for allowing underage users to buy controlled substances on their platforms, as well as when their content causes them to harm themselves or others, develop eating disorders, or when they offer information facilitating suicide, among other problems.

Sophie Szew, a 20-year-old first-year student at Stanford University, testified in support of the bill, saying she suffered from an eating disorder as a teen after first downloading Instagram at her 10th birthday party. “Standing with me is a generation that knows all too well what it is to be to be harmed by a flawed system, she told the committee.

Carl Szabo, a professor of internet law and general counsel for NetChoice, a free enterprise advocacy group, criticized the measure over what he described as a misguided definition of addiction that would allow companies to be sued for online activity that “people enjoy doing.”

He also said he expects there will be constitutional challenges against “wild violations of the First Amendment” in Utah’s new social media laws, among the most aggressive in the nation, which require platforms to obtain parental consent before letting state residents under 18 use them, create overnight curfew rules and penalize companies if they employ designs or features that feed addiction.

Skinner acknowledged comments by fellow lawmakers that some language in the bill is too broad, though she said none of the opponents have offered specific amendments.

“The bill still has a long way to go, she said. “I’m very open to suggestions or improvement.

Read more: China warns of jail for social media posts deemed libel

Top Content Trending