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Social media liability bill introduced in state legislature 

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AB 2408 creates a duty placed upon social media platforms not to addict child users

– This week, California Assemblymembers Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo) and Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) announced that they have introduced a landmark social media liability bill. AB 2408 would allow parents and the California Attorney General to hold social media companies liable if the company knew or should have known that their platform is addictive to children, and the use of the platform caused harm to children.

“According to whistleblowers, certain social media companies have been designing their products to get children addicted. The results have been calamitous for our youth: anxiety, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, depression, and loneliness,” said Assemblymember Cunningham. “It’s time we treat the dangers of youth social media addiction with the level of seriousness it warrants. We need to hold companies accountable when they knowingly create products that addict children and cause harm.”

Specifically, AB 2408 creates a duty placed upon social media platforms not to addict its child users. It also permits parents, guardians, and the California Attorney General to bring legal action against any company that violates this new duty of care and causes harm. The bill applies retroactively.

“As the mother of two daughters, I grapple with how harmful the social media landscape can be to our children’s health and well-being — especially that of young girls,” said Assemblymember Wicks. “For every parent like me who is anxiously watching their children grow older in the digital world, there are millions of others whose teens (and often, even younger kids) are already experiencing the mental health impacts of a system that has a moral responsibility to protect them. Our number one job as legislators is to protect the health and safety of Californians — especially our kids and teens — and I’m proud to jointly author this bill that takes that responsibility as seriously as it deserves.”

In Meta’s (previously Facebook) leaked data, it revealed 66-percent of teen girls on Instagram and 40-percent of teen boys experience negative social comparisons. Further, social comparison “mimics the grief cycle and includes a downward emotional spiral, encompassing a range of emotions from jealousy to self-proclaimed body dysmorphia,” according to Cunningham. Social media addiction – which Facebook calls “problematic use” – is most severe in teens peaking at age 14.

An internal Facebook study showed 13.5-percent of teen girls said Instagram makes thoughts of suicide worse and 17-percent of teen girls said it makes eating disorders worse. Other studies have found that social media addiction has a negative impact on children’s normal socialization and contributes to feelings of social isolation in young people.

“We know that there are many ways that social media platforms can harm kids,” said Jim Steyer, CEO, and founder of Common Sense Media. “And tech companies know it too. Addictive design features, algorithmic amplification of harmful content, and overly commercial content are just some of the harms social media platforms inflict on kids and teens. Big tech companies won’t change their practices on their own but California can take an important step to force them to do the right thing for our kids, teens, and families.”

“We shouldn’t have to put in law that some of the most profitable corporations in the world have a duty to be kind to children, have a duty not to make addicts of children. But here we are. We have to,” said Ed Howard, senior counsel at the University of San Diego School of Law’s Children’s Advocacy Institute.

The bill will be heard in the Assembly Judiciary Committee this spring. To learn more about the bill, and to hear how social media is addictive directly from children, click here.

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