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California Can No Longer Sue Social Media for Addicting Kids

A bill that would have allowed prosecutors to sue social media companies for addicting their children to their online platforms died on Thursday, Aug. 11, just ahead of the Technology and Policy Summit.

(TNS) — California lawmakers will not advance a bill that would have allowed prosecutors to sue large social media companies for addicting children to online platforms.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, Aug. 11, quietly killed Assembly Bill 2408, authored by Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R- San Luis Obispo, and Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D- Oakland.

Cunningham and Wicks originally wanted to empower parents to sue big social media companies for employing addictive algorithms and features to hook children and harm their mental health. But an amendment added in late June limited that ability to the Attorney General, district attorneys, county counsels or city attorneys.

Wicks also put forward a complementary measure, Assembly Bill 2273, which would create standards for companies that provide online platforms and content for children. AB 2273 made it through Appropriations, although it will no longer have the benefit of the legal liability Cunningham’s measure would have provided.

Social media companies like Meta, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, came out strongly against AB 2408. Meta’s lobbying firm told CalMatters in July it would “pursue every legislative avenue to try to stop the bill.”

Although social media can connect children and teens to their peers, those who spend “a great deal of time” on platforms report higher levels of loneliness, depression and anxiety, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Cunningham, who isn’t running for another term in the Assembly, said he was “extremely disappointed” at the committee’s decision to hold AB 2408.

“The bill’s death means that a handful of social media companies will be able to continue their experiment on millions of California kids, causing generational harm,” Cunningham said in a statement. “The bill — supported by a diverse and broad coalition made up of children’s advocacy organizations, consumer protection organizations, and parents — received zero no votes in the Legislature this year. The full Senate should have been given the opportunity to vote on this critical piece of legislation.”

Bill Dies in Secretive 'Suspense File’ Hearing

Senators dispensed of AB 2408 through a secretive process known as the suspense file. Appropriations committees in both houses hold suspense hearings twice a year, just ahead of the deadline for fiscal committees to move bills to Senate and Assembly floors.

During the hearings, committees take up bills that are controversial or would require the state to spend more than $150,000. Members vote to advance some measures, but they conspicuously leave out some bills without indicating why or voting to do so. This effectively ends consideration of the measure for the legislative session.

Further complicating the situation was a swanky Napa tech conference where lobbyists met with lawmakers last week, just before the crucial Appropriations Committee hearings.

The Technology and Policy Summit is connected to a foundation with ties to the legislative tech caucus, chaired by Assemblyman Evan Low, D- Campbell, the Los Angeles Times reported. Tech executives and lobbyists could pay $10,000 to $35,000 to attend the event, speak on panels and talk to lawmakers.

A long list of legislators attended the event, including powerful Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Anthony Portantino, D- Burbank, KCRA reported.

Cunningham tied his bill’s death directly to that summit.

“I believe that this idea would be overwhelmingly supported if presented directly to the voters, as it would be prohibitively expensive for social media companies to take every California voter on a Tech Caucus junket in Napa,” Cunningham said.

©2022 The Sacramento Bee. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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