Social media companies could soon be held accountable for harming children that have become addicted to their products under a bill that passed the state Assembly on Monday.
Parents could sue social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok for up to $25,000 per violation. The bill now heads to the state Senate where it will undergo hearings and negotiations among activists and advocates, according to the Associated Press.
The bill, co-sponsored and authored by State Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham, aims to protect children under the age of 18 that use a social media platform from addiction. Authors of the bill define “addiction” as kids under 18 who are either physically, mentally, emotionally, developmentally, or materially harmed and who want to stop or reduce how much time they spend on social media, but can't because they are preoccupied or obsessed with it.
Companies that had at least $100 million in gross revenue in the past year could be affected by the bill. Streaming services such as Netflix or companies that offer email services will not be affected by the bill.
Cunningham told AP that "the era of unfettered social experimentation on children is over, and we will protect kids".
The bill takes effect on Jan. 1 if it becomes law. According to AP, companies that remove features deemed addictive to children by April 1 would not be responsible for damages. Companies that conduct regular audits to identify and remove addictive features could be immune from lawsuits.
The state Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection held an informational hearing last month to discuss how to better protect children online at the heels of President Joe Biden calling on Congress to strengthen privacy and protection for children.
The request comes just months after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former lead product manager for Facebook’s division on civic integrity, disclosed internal documents from the company to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Haugen testified that Facebook actively attempted to recruit kids to their platforms regardless of the known detriments it would have on their mental health.
The documents disclosed by Haugen included a study exploring problematic use of Facebook’s platforms and found that rates of problematic use by age peak with 14-year-olds, likely due to underdeveloped self-regulatory capacity.
Several handouts were made available by the California State Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection to educate the public on the impact of digital media on children.