California ban on ‘addictive’ social media fails

A proposal to let parents sue over addictive social media features failed this week in the California legislature. Bill, AB 2408, failed to leave the committee for a full vote of the State Senate. This at least temporarily ends a controversial campaign to increase social media accountability in the state — a practice that is increasingly common among lawmakers.

AB 2408or the Social Media Platform Duty to Children Act, was one of many state-level social media proposals. It would have authorized civil penalties against social networks whose designs made a “child user (…) addicted to the platform”, either by design or in a way the operators should have known was harmful. It would not apply to social networks that generate less than $100 million per year or that are primarily for video games.

The bill is part of a broader drive to limit minors’ exposure to social media or increase the risks for platforms that allow them. It follows internal research indicating that sites like Instagram can have a negative effect on teen mental health, as well as changes made by the platforms themselves. “The death of the bill means that a handful of social media companies will be able to continue their experiment on millions of Californian children, causing generational harm,” the bill’s author, Jordan Cunningham, told about the disappearance of the proposal. Nationally, President Joe Biden has called for new protections for child safety online, and last year federal lawmakers proposed raise the age of a ruler which limits the collection of data from minors online.

But critics of AB 2408 – including internet policy pundits like legal writer Eric Goldman – argued that the rule would have pushed the services towards privacy-threatening age verification and said it obscured the complex factors behind compulsive social media use. “It harms children by depriving them of valuable social opportunities and educational resources; it harms adults by requiring age (and presumably identity) verification to separate children from adults; and age/identity verification harms children and adults alike by exposing them to greater privacy and security risks,” Goldman wrote in an August post about the bill.

Had the bill passed, it might still have faced a legal battle through Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — but that hasn’t stopped other state legislatures. Both Texas and Florida have passed social media rules to prevent social networks from banning conservative users. So far, the two laws remain in abeyance pending a confrontation in court.

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