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New bill would make social media platforms liable for harm caused to children

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(The Center Square) – Parents of children who are harmed by the use of social media platforms are one step closer to holding those platforms accountable, thanks to a new bill passed by the California Assembly Judiciary Committee.

The bill was authored by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and is being sponsored by Attorney General Bonta.

“Every day, children in California face real and immediate harms on social media platforms,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta.“It’s great news that Senator Skinner’s bill has been approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Last July Benjamin and Jennifer Martin initiated a 7-count lawsuit against Meta, the parent company of Instagram, in a San Francisco court for the harm their “unreasonably dangerous Instagram social media product,” caused to their young daughter.

The Martins say the product led their child down a path of anxiety, depression, eating disorders and, ultimately, suicide attempts.

“Meta programmed and operated its product to prioritize engagement over safety,” the lawsuit stated, and went on to disclose that internal Meta documents “prove known dangerous designs …as well as operational decisions and calculations and a causal relationship between use of Meta’s Instagram social media product….and resulting addiction, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, exploitation and grooming, and …suicide and self-injury.”

Senate Bill 680 prohibits a social media platform from using a design, algorithm, or feature that the platform knows, or should know, causes children to harm themselves or others, develop an eating disorder, or experience addiction to the social media platform. The bill also requires the platform to conduct quarterly audits to ensure compliance and if needed, correction within 30 days.

Platforms found to be in violation can face charges of up to $250,000 per infraction and other penalties, but the bill applies only to companies grossing over $100 million in revenues.

“Large social media companies are harming our children’s well-being and mental health, and SB 680 is an important tool in our collective efforts to hold those companies accountable,” Bonta said.

“As a parent you feel hopeless,” Jennifer Martin said in an interview with ABC 8 WFFA. “You try to support them, and you do what you can for them, but it’s hard to understand.”

Skinner pointed out, “These platforms are designed to addict users, with our children particularly susceptible … .SB 680 will provide the Attorney General’s Office, along with other public prosecutors, the legal tools needed to curb these harmful practices.”

Instagram, designed for users 13 years and older, has faced challenges maintaining verification of the age of its users. SB 680 covers children up to the age of 16.

The bill now goes to the Assembly’s Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee.

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