California may soon hold social media companies responsible for the harm caused to children who become addicted to their products thanks to a new bill that passed the state Assembly.
According to the Associated Press, the bill would permit parents to sue social media companies like Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook for up to $25,000. The bill defines “addiction” in this case as affecting a person under 18 years of age if they are harmed physically, mentally, emotionally, developmentally, or materially and who want to stop using social media apps but can’t because they are obsessed with or feel compelled to use them.
The bill would only apply to social media companies that make at least $100 million in gross revenue per year and appears aimed specifically at the giants like TikTok and Meta’s Instagram. That narrow scope is underscored by the fact it wouldn’t apply to companies whose apps only allow for messaging or email and also excludes media streaming services.
“The era of unfettered social experimentation on children is over and we will protect kids,” Assembly member Jordan Cunningham, a Republican from San Luis Obispo County and author of the bill, says.
The bill gives social media companies two ways to avoid liability. First, if passed, the bill would go into effect on January 1 and any company that removed features deemed “addictive” by April 1 would not be responsible for damages. Second, companies that conduct regular audits of their practices to identify and remove addictive features could also immunize them against lawsuits.
But business groups argue the legal risk of the bill would still be too high and if it passes, many companies would choose to just cease operations in California.
“Social media companies and online web services would have no choice but to cease operations for kids under 18 and would implement stringent age-verification in order to ensure that adolescents did not use their sites,” TechNet, a bipartisan network of tech CEOs and other executives, wrote to lawmakers in response to the bill.
“There is no social media company let alone any business that could tolerate that legal risk.”
Instagram has already faced a high-profile lawsuit this year that notes addiction at its core. In January, a Connecticut mother sued Meta and Snap for their alleged role in her daughter’s suicide, which she says was linked to “extreme addiction” to the platforms.
The bill is headed to the state Senate where it will be debated over the next few weeks.
Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.