California bills seek to downplay social media’s harm to…

A recent short film video published by the Dove Self-Esteem Project depicts teenage girls and their mothers watching social media influencers promote “toxic beauty tips” ranging from diet pills, lip filler kits, tooth filing tips and the benefits of “Botox baby”.

The video says social media has normalized harmful beauty advice for teenage girls. “This stuff is on every girl’s wire,” said one teenage girl. One in two girls agreed that idealized beauty content on social media caused them low self-esteem, Dove found in an April investigation.

In recent years, an increasing number of parents, legislators and even teenagers are concerned about the harms of social media on children. But opponents of legislative efforts to address the problem say they would undermine free speech.

The push for federal and state regulation has accelerated over the past year. A former Facebook employee has leaked internal company data revealing how his Instagram photo-sharing app has contributed to body image issues and increased rates of anxiety and depression among teenage girls. data, obtained by The the wall street journalfound that 32% of girls said that using Instagram worsens their body image and 17% said it made eating disorders worse.

Today, California lawmakers are considering two bills that would hold social media platforms accountable for their youth-directed content, including algorithms and other features that track child users or market harmful or inappropriate content to them. The state could become the first in the country to hold social media companies responsible for harming children who have become addicted to their platforms.

A die bills would allow parents, guardians and the state Attorney General to sue platforms such as Instagram and TikTok for up to $25,000 per violation if they could prove that a child was harmed physically, mentally, emotionally or at the level of development. The bill, dubbed the “Social Media Platform Duty to Children Act,” interprets addiction as a user’s inability to “cease or reduce use of a social media platform” despite intending to do so. .

The other invoice would require tech companies to follow age-appropriate design code for websites and apps likely to be used by children. It would prevent companies from collecting children’s online data, including the terms they enter into search engines, to set algorithms that advertise harmful content. Companies would be required to provide the highest privacy settings for children under 18.

Both bills passed the California Assembly with bipartisan support and are now heading to the state Senate.

State Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, a Republican and co-author of the bills, said the measures would send a strong signal to tech companies that “the era of unfettered social media experimentation on children is over. “.

But critics, including tech industry executives and libertarian groups, say the bills would undermine the rights of online users and violate free speech protections for internet companies. They say the broad language of the legislation would expose tech companies to lawsuits for other users’ content and activity on their platforms.

“There’s a strong consensus that there’s a problem with social media for teens,” said Lee Tien, legislative director of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group for teens. digital rights. “It’s one thing to identify a problem. … We are in the very early stages of finding solutions that work and have no unintended consequences.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a letter of objection that legislation regarding children’s privacy should take into account the differences between the average 17-year-old child and a younger 7-year-old child. Federal law, under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, applies to children. under 13 years old.

US lawmakers have debated how to better protect children’s online privacy and protect them from social media harms. During congressional hearings late last year, senators questioned tech executives from Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok, among others. In February, two US senators presented a invoice who would hold tech companies accountable for the harm they cause to children.

This week, the head of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said The agency is working on actions and policies to protect children online, including penalizing educational technology companies that illegally monitor children when they go online to learn. In March, the FTC asked WW International, formerly known as Weight Watchers, to remove information illegally collected from children under 13 and algorithms developed by its weight loss app for kids. WW International also paid a $1.5 million fine.

In California, Common Sense Media CEO Jim Steyer said Big tech companies won’t change their practices on their own: “California can take an important step to force them to do the right thing for our kids, teens, and families. »

Bernard P. Love