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California bill aims to allow parents to sue social media companies for their kids’ “addiction” to platforms

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In another move to outsource parenting to Big Tech, two lawmakers in the state of California have introduced a bill that will make tech companies responsible for “social media addiction” in children.

The bill (obtained for you here) is another example of a proposal that is, in theory, aimed at children but would have a wide-sweeping impact on many aspects of the internet.

The bill follows testimony by former Facebook employee Frances Haugen that Facebook was aware that Instagram affected the mental health of teenage girls.

If Social Media Platform Duty to Children Act passes (it likely won’t as its demands are too broad), parents and guardians will have the ability to sue companies they believe got their kids addicted to social media, through push notifications, ads, and user interface that promotes obsessive use, especially the excessive consumption of harmful content like suicide and eating disorders.

Companies would be held liable whether or not they intentionally designed their services to be addictive.

The bill was introduced earlier this week by state Reps. Buffy Wicks, a Democrat, and Jordan Cunningham, a Republican, the same pair that introduced the Californian Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, which forces tech companies to limit the collection of kids’ data, remove addictive user interfaces, simplify privacy settings and agreements, and protects kids from other users.

According to Cunnigham, the purpose of the bill is to improve kids’ online experience from two angles. The first bill, which was introduced last month, focuses on companies’ practices. The bill introduced this week is meant to force companies to “bear some of the social costs that they put on all of our children.”

Cunningham said that the bill was inspired by Frances Haugen’s testimony late last year. She gave the Wall Street Journal documents that showed that Meta was aware of the harm Instagram has on the self-image of teenagers, as Meta had carried out research investigating such.

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