California parents may soon sue social media platforms

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A bill passed by the California State Assembly on Monday would allow parents to sue platforms like Instagram and TikTok for up to $25,000 per violation.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California could soon hold social media companies liable for harm caused to children who have become addicted to their products, allowing parents to sue platforms like Instagram and TikTok for up to $25,000 per violation under a bill passed by the state Assembly on Monday.

The bill defines “addiction” as children under 18 who are both harmed – physically, mentally, emotionally, developmentally or materially – and who want to stop or reduce the time that they’re on social media, but they can’t because they’re preoccupied. or obsessed with it.

Business groups have warned that if the bill passes, social media companies would most likely cease operations for children in California rather than face legal risk.

The proposal would only apply to social media companies that have made at least $100 million in gross revenue over the past year, appearing to target social media giants like Facebook and others who dominate the market .

This would not apply to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu or companies that only offer email and text messaging services.

“The era of unfettered social experimentation on children is over and we will protect children,” said Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, a San Luis Obispo County Republican and author of the bill.

Monday’s vote is a key — but not final — step for the legislation. The bill now heads to the state Senate, where it will undergo weeks of hearings and negotiations between lawmakers and lawyers. But Monday’s vote keeps the bill alive this year.

The bill gives social media companies two avenues to escape liability in court. If the bill becomes law, it will come into force on January 1. Companies that remove features deemed addictive for children by April 1 would not be liable for damages.

Additionally, companies that conduct regular audits of their practices to identify and remove potentially addictive features for children would be safe from prosecution.

Despite these provisions, business groups opposed the bill. TechNet, a bipartisan network of CEOs and senior tech executives, wrote in a letter to lawmakers that if the bill becomes law, “social media companies and online web services would have no choice than ceasing activities for children under 18 and would enforce strict rules on age verification to ensure that teenagers have not used their sites.”

“There is no social media company let alone a company that could tolerate this legal risk,” the group wrote.

Lawmakers seemed willing to change the part of the bill that allows parents to sue social media companies, but none offered a detailed alternative. Instead, supporters urged their colleagues to pass the bill Monday to continue the conversation on the issue at the state Capitol.

Assemblyman Ken Cooley, a Democrat from Rancho Cordova, said as a lawyer he normally opposes bills that create more opportunities for lawsuits. But he said lawmakers must “change the dynamic of what surrounds us, that surrounds our children.”

“We have to do something,” he said. “If it doesn’t go well, we can modify as we go along.”

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