California could hold social media companies accountable for the harm of children who have become addicted to their products, allowing parents to sue platforms such as Instagram and TikTok for up to $ 25,000 per violation, according to a bill passed by State Assembly at the end of May.
The bill defines “addiction” as children under the age of 18 who are so injured - whether physically, mentally, emotionally, developmentally or materially - and who want to stop or reduce their time on social media, but can’t because they are worried. or obsessed with it.
Business groups have warned that if the bill is passed, social networking companies would stop working for children in California rather than face legal risk.
The proposal would only apply to social networking companies that have had at least $ 100 million in gross revenue in the last year, appearing to target social media giants such as Facebook and others that dominate the market.
It would not apply to streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu or to companies that only offer email and text messaging services.
“The age of unrestricted social experimentation on children is over and we will protect children,” said Jordanian MP Cunningham, a Republican from San Luis Obispo County and author of the bill.
The vote is a key - but not a final - step for legislation.
The bill is now heading to the state Senate, where it will be subject to weeks of hearings and negotiations between lawmakers and lawyers. But the vote keeps the bill alive this year.
The bill offers social media companies two ways to escape liability in court. If the bill becomes law, it would come into force on January 1. Companies that eliminate functions considered addictive for children until April 1 would not be liable for damages.
Companies that conduct regular audits of their practices to identify and eliminate features that could be addictive for children would also be immune to lawsuits.
Despite these provisions, business groups opposed the bill. TechNet, a bipartisan network of CEOs and senior executives, wrote in a letter to lawmakers that if the bill becomes law, “social media companies and online web services would have no choice but to cease operations for children under the age of 18 and would implement strict age-verification measures to ensure that teenagers did not use their websites. ”
“There is no social media company, let alone any business that could tolerate this legal risk,” the group wrote.
Lawmakers seemed willing to change the part of the bill that allows parents to sue social media companies, but none offered a detailed alternative. Instead, supporters urged colleagues to pass the bill on Monday to continue talks on the issue at the State Capitol.
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