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California Proposes Law to Protect Children from Addiction to Social Media

The negative effects of social media have been a cause of concern for some years. The Facebook Papers showed that internally, Meta (then Facebook) were aware of how their products negatively affected children. California is proposing a bill which would fine social media platforms $25,000 per violation if children become addicted to their products.

The bill, AB-2408, was introduced by Assembly members Jordan Cunningham and Buffy Wicks to compel social media platforms to refrain from using technologies and strategies that would result in children under 18 becoming addicted to their products. In the event of a social media company violating the terms of the bill, they would face penalties and damages. The bill is especially concerned with addiction among adolescent girls, who, as the Facebook Papers showed, have been particularly susceptible to addiction to these platforms and subsequent deteriorations in self-perception.

The bill, if passed, would be the first bill of its kind in the country and is backed by both parties across the aisle.

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Under the bill, concerned parents or guardians would be able to sue social media companies for harms suffered by their children from use of social media platforms.

Consequences of the Law

Although well-intentioned, the bill faces some hurdles. If social media platforms feel that they face massive liability in the state, they may decide that they should simply stop providing services to children, given that even if they did work to ensure children did not  become addicted and suffer harm from their platforms, some parents could still sue them. The proposal affects companies with gross annual revenues of $100 million, so they are clearly targeted at the big platforms. However, this carries the risk that big taxpayers leave the state out of fear of liability.

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The bill will be debated over the next few weeks in the state Senate. If it passes, it will come into effect on 1 January 2023. Companies will have two options if they want to avoid liability. If they remove addictive features by 1 April, would avoid liability. The other option is for companies to have periodic audits of their products to see if there are any features that would prove addictive for children.

However, as expected, social media platforms do not support the bill. The bill would obviously compel companies to add a new layer of bureaucracy to ensure compliance with the law. Profitability would be affected and the only way that companies could maintain profitability would be to pass on those costs.

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The likelihood is that companies will not take those two options and instead will stop offering services to children and will create tough age-verification systems to ensure that children do not use their platforms. The legal jeopardy that social media platforms face is just too great for them to responsibly endure the risk.

In response, lawmakers have signaled that they are willing to remove the provision that would allow parents and guardians to sue social media platforms, but this doesn’t really resolve the massive legal jeopardy that social media platforms face.

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James Musoba
James Musoba
Studying Africa's startup and technology scene. I always look forward to discovering new exciting inventions and vibrant entrepreneurs.

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