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Recently, practices and policies enacted by social media companies have come under public scrutiny for their harmful effects on kids and teens. Many parents, public figures, and experts have expressed that screen addiction is a rampant issue being faced by kids, teens, and adults. Figuring out how to best protect your family in the online world can be tough. For some help in this area, check out Dr. Bennet’s Screen Safety Toolkit which comes with recommendations, how-to information, and links to easy-to-onboard parental control systems.  To combat the issue in California, lawmakers are proposing a bill that would allow the parents of children who have become addicted to social media apps to sue the companies that own them.[1]

Social Media Platform Duty to Children Act

The Social Media Platform Duty to Children Act, formally known as Assembly Bill 2408, is the latest in a string of political endeavors to crack down on the exploitation of children by social media companies. The bill was introduced to the California State Assembly by two bipartisan lawmakers, Democrat Buffy Wicks of Oakland and Republican Jordan Cunningham of Paso Robles and with support from the University of San Diego School of Law Children’s Advocacy Institute.[1] Its creation is likely a response to internal documents leaked by whistleblowers from prominent social media companies. The documents leaked provide evidence that some social media companies have been aware of the harmful effects of some of their practices and policies on children, yet they continue to implement them without safeguards.

For more information about screen addiction, how to spot it in your kids, and ways to combat it, order Dr. Tracy Bennet’s book, Screen Time in the Mean Time: A Parenting Guide to Get Kids and Teens Internet Safe. Dr. Bennett understands that technology is a helpful tool that is here to stay, but also recognizes that it imposes risks like screen addiction due to effective manipulative designs that hack our brains’ reward systems. Using her decades of expertise as a clinical psychologist and mom, Dr. B’s developed family-tested parenting strategies that will help you build the tools you need to help your family navigate today’s technological pitfalls.

Details, Penalties, and Exemptions

Information provided by the Children’s Advocacy Institute explains that, if passed, the bill would first obligate social media companies to avoid engaging in any practices or policies that are harmful or injurious to child users. This may include forcing the companies to eliminate or change design features or data collection practices that contribute to or promote addictive behaviors. If the companies fail to comply with these standards, parents and guardians will be empowered to seek legal action in the form of a lawsuit on behalf of their children who were harmed by the companies’ products.

According to the Institute, damages may potentially include $1,000 or more per child in a class-action suit or up to $25,000 per child per year in a civil penalty. The legislatures who introduced the bill speculate that companies will adopt a varied range of potential compliance solutions that may include changes to certain algorithms or simply not allow kids to sign up anymore. Additionally, representatives of the Institute state that there will be a provision that prevents responsible companies who take basic steps to avoid implementing practices, features, or policies that contribute to children’s addictions to their platforms. Further, social media companies that make less than $1oo million per year will be exempt from penalties.[1]

The Argument for Introducing the Bill

The two lawmakers behind the bill expressed their reasoning for introducing it during the State Assembly. Rep. Jordan Cunningham stated that tech companies willfully design their social media platforms and products with features that make kids and teens want to spend more and more time engaging with them to the point that they begin exhibiting addictive behaviors. He argues that tech companies should stop profiting from child harm and instead share in the cost of treating screen-addicted kids. Rep. Cunningham also explained that social media should be regulated the same way that any other products consumed by children are regulated and for the same reason, to keep them safe.[1]

Facebook Whistleblower

The most prominent whistleblower is a former data scientist at Facebook, Frances Haugen, who leaked internal documents containing evidence about Facebook’s extensive knowledge of Instagram’s negative effects on young girls’ body images. Facebook, which also owns Instagram, had compiled studies with alarming statistics. One such study found that 32% of teens said they felt worse about their bodies after using Instagram.[2]

In 2021, Haugen presented the documents during a congressional hearing during which several members expressed deep dissatisfaction with Facebook’s practices. Subcommittee Chair Richard Blumenthal stated that, despite being aware of these statistics, “Facebook exploited teens using powerful algorithms that amplified their insecurities.”[2] Haugen argued that lawmakers must examine the algorithms that drive popular features as well as the data collecting practices used by Facebook and Instagram. Assembly Bill 2408 aims to sidestep Section 230 which protects social media platforms from being liable for third-party content.

Thanks to CSUCI intern, Mackenzie Morrow for researching The Social Media Platform Duty to Children Act and co-authoring this article.

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

Works Cited

[1] Contreras, B. (2022). California bill would let parents sue social media companies for addicting kids. Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/business/technology/story/2022-03-16/california-bill-would-let-parents-sue-social-media-companies-for-addicting-kids

[2] Allyn, B. (2021). Here are 4 key points from the Facebook whistleblower’s testimony on Capitol Hill. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2021/10/05/1043377310/facebook-whistleblower-frances-haugen-congress


Photo Credits

Photo by Liliana Drew (https://www.pexels.com/photo/kids-in-costumes-playing-games-with-tablet-computer-8506374/)

Photo by Tara Winstead (https://www.pexels.com/photo/red-and-blue-us-a-flag-8850737/)

Photo by Magnus Mueller (https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-hand-holding-a-black-smartphone-2818118/)

Photo by Mikhail Nilov (https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-in-black-tank-top-and-blue-denim-jeans-8670186/)

Mackenzie Morrow
Mackenzie Morrow