Big Tech Escapes California’s Social Media Addiction Bill Again

A California bill proposing to hold platforms accountable for social media addiction has died in committee.

As Bloomberg News reported Friday (Sept. 1), this marks the second year in a row the bill has failed to get past the committee amid heated opposition from big tech companies.

The legislation would let California’s attorney general and public attorneys file suit against social media platforms that intentionally include addictive or harmful designs and algorithms. The report said the bill could require companies to pay a $250,000 penalty for each violation and litigation costs. 

Lawmakers had changed the bill to address protests from tech groups, who say the bill hampers free speech. For example, an earlier version of the bill would have let parents sue platforms, while the later version gave that right solely to the state attorney general and public attorneys. 

The bill was also edited to give social media companies a 60-day grace period after a violation was discovered to correct the problem. 

The news comes as social media companies face added scrutiny around the world over safety issues, especially when it comes to children using their platforms.

For example, China’s internet regulator introduced measures last month — considered some of the strictest on the planet — to prevent kids from spending too much time online.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) rules block “non-adult” children from accessing the internet from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and limit teens between ages 16 and 18 to two hours of mobile use. 

Online safety has been among the concerns raised by lawmakers in the U.S. about the rise of China’s TikTok in this country.

A hearing before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in March — at which TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was grilled for several hours — was given the title “TikTok: How Congress Can Safeguard American Data Privacy and Protect Children from Online Harms.”

As the name of the hearing suggests, the company has faced concerns about data privacy and security, with lawmakers introducing bills to protect Americans’ user data from being used by the country’s adversaries.

Beyond that, lawmakers have been blunt about what they see as TikTok’s destructive effect on its young user base, with U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisconsin) comparing the platform to “digital fentanyl” on NBC’s “Meet the Press” earlier this year.

“It’s highly addictive and destructive,” he said. “We’re seeing troubling data about the corrosive impact of constant social media use, particularly on young men and women here in America.”