CA Law Holds Social Media Companies Responsible for Child Sex Abuse Content

Gavin Newsom

Sunday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that would hold social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook, accountable for inaction regarding the spread of “child sex abuse materials.”

The new law, Assembly Bill 1394, would affect platforms “knowingly facilitating, aiding, or abetting commercial sexual exploitation.” These social media sites could be fined between $1 million and $4 million for each instance the law is violated, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Further, users in California will be able to report material they are in. The social media platforms must enable this reporting ability and have 36 hours to respond. Failure to do so can also result in charges.

The bill noted statements from a whistleblower at Facebook who said the social media site’s “efforts to prevent sexual abuse of children are inadequate and underresourced,” with higher ups refused to invest in the matter in favor of prioritizing other matters with better “return on investment.” The whistleblower further cited moderators who lack training and preparation to deal with issues of child sexual abuse.

“A Forbes review of hundreds of recent TikTok livestreams revealed how viewers regularly use the comments to urge young girls to perform acts that appear to toe the line of child pornography, rewarding those who oblige with TikTok gifts that can be redeemed for money, or off-platform payments to Venmo, PayPal or Cash App accounts that users list in their TikTok profiles,” the bill added.

“According to an assistant dean at Harvard Law School and faculty associate at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, ‘[i]t’s the digital equivalent of going down the street to a strip club filled with 15-year-olds.'”

“This law underscores our state’s dedication to defending the most vulnerable among us, and sends a resounding message to other states and tech platforms that using the internet to exploit children will no longer go unchecked,” said Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, who drafted the bill.

And though Common Sense Media, an organization that reviews appropriateness of media for minors and advocates for child-friendly laws and policies that also co-sponsored the bill, lauded the effort, other groups voiced concerns.

Both NetChoice and TechNet, both technology advocacy organizations, shared potential freedom of speech issues if the law leads to the removal of lawful conduct or the removal of certain features for younger users.

Assembly Bill 1394 will take effect January 1, 2025.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.