A California bill would let parents sue predatory social media companies

A California bill would let parents sue social media companies who fail to protect children from addiction.

Some people might think it’s a parent’s job to limit screen time, but what if companies are doing everything they can to keep kids scrolling?

The Social Media Platform Duty to Children Act is a California bill that would allow parents and guardians to sue social media companies that fail to prevent addiction in children.

The bill would only apply to companies that earn $100m+ in annual revenue and excludes things like search engines, streaming services, email providers, and comment sections.

But it mentions Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok by name.

Penalties for violators include:

  • A civil penalty of up to $25k per child user
  • Damages of $1k+ per child in a class-action suit

Companies can avoid liability by regularly auditing features and removing those determined to cause harm.

How social media hooks kids

The more time we spend on social media, the more those companies profit — thus, incentivizing them to keep us engaged.

Some tactics, however, are known to be addictive:

  • Endless scroll
  • Social rewards, like “Likes”
  • Collecting data so that algorithms can feed users targeted content

This can lead to significant harm in some users.

Documents leaked by the Facebook whistleblower included studies that found Instagram worsened eating disorders and self-esteem issues in teen girls.

The Wall Street Journal investigated TikTok algorithms’ negative impact on eating disorders.

Would this bill work?

The bill suggests the best way to get companies to stop causing harm is to make “harmful things risky or unprofitable.”

But one expert told Time the law is “too vague to be… actionable,” and thinks it’d be best to prevent data collection in the 1st place.

To that end, there are other bills in the pipeline:

  • A Minnesota bill would prohibit social media from using algorithms to target content to anyone under 18.
  • California’s Age-Appropriate Design Code Act lists several protections for children, including restricting data collection.
  • At the federal level, the Kids Online Safety Act would limit data collection, addictive features, and allow users to opt out of algorithm-based recommendations.

BTW: The Addiction Center has some tips for identifying social media addiction, as well as preventing or curbing it.

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