By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — California parents could soon sue social media platforms like Facebook and TikTok for addicting their children to social media under legislation passed in the Assembly on Monday.
The legislation, Assembly Bill 2408, specifies that “addiction” means the use of social media platforms creates an obsession that makes it difficult to reduce use despite the user’s desire to and causes harm — including physical, mental, emotional, developmental, or material harm.
The bill allows parents who can demonstrate their child under 18 is addicted to the platform to sue and collect up to $25,000 per violation. Additionally, a claimant who demonstrates the platform “knew or intended to addict children” could make platforms pay out an additional $250,000 civil penalty.
The law applies to social media platforms that generated at least $100 million in gross revenue in the previous year, indicating that the bill targets the largest and most influential social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
The bill’s author, Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham, R-San Luis Obispo, urged lawmakers to advance the bill Monday, saying that social media addiction is causing harm to the mental health of children and teens across the state and nation.
“If you’re going to create a product that you know children are going to use, you should want to design it in a way that doesn’t require them to seek psychiatric help,” said Rep. Cunningham, whose district includes northern Santa Barbara County.
He later added that advancing the measure would send a message to social media giants that “the era of unfettered social experimentation on children is over and we will protect kids.”
The bill received broad bipartisan support during Monday’s Assembly floor session and cleared a key hurdle after both Republican and Democratic lawmakers backed the measure. The bill now heads to the Senate, where it will wind through committees over the next few weeks.
Thus far, the bill has been opposed by several business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce and TechNet, a network of tech CEOs and executives. Opposition groups have argued that the bill would impose an “unimaginable civil liability” on social media platforms and “interferes with expressive rights of both the minors who will be banned from social media services and the service providers themselves.”
“There is no social media company let alone any business that could tolerate that legal risk, especially considering how much this bill puts the thumb on the scales of justice for plaintiffs,” TechNet wrote in opposition.
The bill, however, does contain options for social media platforms to avoid liability. If the bill becomes law and takes effect Jan. 1, 2023, platforms can avoid liability if by April 1, 2023, they cease the development of features that were “known or should have been known” to be addictive to child users.
Additionally, the bill contains a “safe harbor provision” that protects social media platforms from civil penalties if they maintain quarterly audits of its features to detect if any practices “have the potential to cause or contribute to the addiction of child users,” and if those issues are corrected within 30 days of the audit.
Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.