ICYMI: SB 976 in the LA Times: Social Media Companies Refuse to Safeguard Kids. It’s Up to Lawmakers Now.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

The LA Times published an op-ed yesterday highlighting the urgent need for Senate Bill 976 (SB 976), The Protecting Our Kids from Social Media Addition Act. SB 976, authored by Senator Skinner (D-Berkeley) and sponsored by Attorney General Bonta, would limit the harms associated with social media addiction, and marks an important continuation of Attorney General Bonta’s commitment to improving child safety online.

The op-ed, excerpted below, can be read in its entirety here.

By The Times Editorial Board

From state capitols to Washington, D.C., lawmakers are scrambling to come up with regulations that can protect kids from the potential harms of social media, since the platforms have been unwilling to adopt reasonable safeguards themselves. A dozen other states, including California, are considering or have passed laws that would force companies to design their platforms to be safer for kids. 

This legislation is driven by a growing understanding that social media apps can be addictive and are dangerous to children’s mental health. The American Psychological Assn. urged again this month that policymakers require that tech companies reduce the risks embedded in the platforms.

Yet the drive for regulation is facing stiff pushback from the tech industry, which has lobbied against the bills and filed lawsuits to block new legislation from taking effect, arguing the laws are unconstitutional.  

Senate Bill 976 by Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) would require that social media platforms essentially turn off their algorithms for users under 18 and instead serve them content through a chronological feed from people they follow and information that they’ve searched for. The algorithms are designed to feed users a steady stream of content they didn’t necessarily ask for that keeps them on the app, which is why the algorithms have been called addictive.

The bill is sponsored by Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, who sued Meta last year alleging the company used harmful and “psychologically manipulative product features,” such as “likes,” infinite scroll and constant alerts, to hook young people on Instagram and Facebook and keep them engaged for as much time as possible in order to boost profits.

These are reasonable safeguards and much less restrictive than proposals in other states, yet tech industry groups have opposed the bill. It’s likely that any law attempting to put guardrails on social media platforms will face legal challenges. This is complex legal and regulatory terrain, but that’s exactly why California lawmakers should keep pushing ahead with SB 976 and similar efforts. The tech industry has been unwilling to voluntarily change its practices to protect children. Lawmakers have to do it for them.

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