California’s Social Media Addiction Bill Dies in Senate Committee
California lawmakers have killed a bill that would’ve made it illegal for social media giants to addict children to their apps.
The legislation, AB-2408, died Thursday in the Senate Appropriations Committee, the bill’s author, Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, told dot.LA. The measure would have let government attorneys sue tech titans like Culver City-based TikTok and Santa Monica-based Snap for deploying designs or features that allegedly help hook kids to their platforms.
In a statement, Cunningham said the committee’s chairman, Sen. Anthony Portantino, “made the unilateral decision” to halt the bill in its tracks. Cunningham’s statement did not provide a reason for Portantino’s apparent decision. A spokesperson for Portantino, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Los Angeles County, did not immediately return a request for comment.
The tech industry lobbied hard against the bill, contending that it would impose “immense liability” on social media companies and permit courts to decide which features they can and can’t deploy. In confirming the bill’s demise, Cunningham, a Republican from San Luis Obispo, made a wry remark about the tech industry’s lobbying prowess.
“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.
TechNet, a trade group representing social media firms including Meta and Snap, applauded lawmakers for not advancing the bill.
"If [they] had, companies would've been punished for simply having a platform that kids can access," Dylan Hoffman, the group's executive director for California and the Southwest, said in a statement. "It would've done little to improve child safety and would've only caused businesses to stop providing their services to children altogether."
The proposal was part of a growing political effort to rein in big tech and address concerns that social media is damaging to children. The bill’s supporters took issue with a host of well-known product features, such as push notifications and endless content feeds, which they argue help get children addicted to social media.
The bill has evolved quite a bit since Cunningham and Democratic Assemblyperson Buffy Wicks unveiled it in March. Initially, the proposal would have clarified that, under current law, parents could file lawsuits against social media companies for addicting children. The full Assembly approved that version of the bill by a 51-0 vote.
But after lobbying by tech and business groups, lawmakers overhauled it. The latest version would have made it expressly illegal for social media platforms to addict children, but only allowed government attorneys to file lawsuits to enforce the law. The bill wouldn’t have prohibited parents from bringing their own cases—as some have already done—but judges would’ve had the final say regarding a social media company’s liability.
Proponents of the bill, which included children’s advocacy groups, expressed dismay.
In a statement, Jim Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, said: "Today's decision by the California State Senate to hold AB 2408 is a big loss for kids and families and sends the wrong message about the urgency with which we need to hold big tech accountable for addicting kids to their platforms.”
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