California’s Legislature passed a bill Tuesday that would for the first time in the U.S. require the makers of social-media apps such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok to consider the physical and mental health of minors when designing their products.
The bill passed in a unanimous, bipartisan vote in the Assembly after doing the same in the state Senate on Monday. Both chambers are dominated by Democrats.
A first-of-its kind measure would require social media companies to make public their policies for removing disturbing content and provide details on how and when they remove it.
“California is home to the tech innovation space, and we welcome that,” state Assembly member Buffy Wicks, a Democrat and the bill’s primary author, said at a news conference urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign the bill Tuesday morning. “But I also want to make sure our children are safe, and right now, they are not safe.”
The second bill would require companies that provide online services attractive to children to follow age-appropriate design code principles aimed at keeping kids safe. That includes not profiling a child or using the child’s personal information in a way that could harm their physical or mental health or well-being.
“The online world has created tremendous opportunities, but also real and proximate threats to kids, to vulnerable communities and to American democracy as we know it,” said Democratic Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, author of the first bill.
“We believe that California has a special obligation and a special opportunity to lead on these issues,” Gabriel added during a news conference Tuesday.
“We’re proud of our technology economy, and we know that many of the companies that these bills would regulate are homegrown California companies. But with dysfunction in Washington, D.C., we believe that California must step up and lead.”
Representatives for companies including Meta Platforms Inc. META, +3.67%, Snap Inc. SNAP, +8.69% and Twitter Inc. TWTR, -1.45% lobbied aggressively against that measure, arguing that differing state laws regulating their apps would make compliance difficult.
The second bill, intended specifically to protect children from inappropriate online content, cleared the Senate 33-0 also with bipartisan support, though seven Republicans did not vote. It cleared the Assembly, 60-0.
The measure “will represent a major positive step toward creating a global standard for the protection of youth online. That’s an aspiration about which I think we can all agree,” said Democratic Sen. Josh Newman, who carried the bill in the Senate.
It is modeled after a similar measure in the United Kingdom. It also is opposed by the Chamber of Commerce and some of the tech industry associations. A coalition including the Entertainment Software Association said the bill includes “an over-inclusive standard and would capture far more websites and platforms than necessary.”
A third measure working its way through the California Legislature would require large social media platforms to disclose to the public starting in mid-2023 statistics on content that violated its policies and that was recommended or otherwise amplified by the platform’s algorithms.
Another more controversial measure failed in the gatekeeper Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this month after it was heavily opposed by the influential tech industry. It would have subjected some popular social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok to fines for using features they know can endanger children.
In addition to content issues, how user data is being collected has also led to growing public concern and outrage from parents and officials. Federal regulators are looking at drafting rules to crack down on what they call “harmful commercial surveillance.”
The Federal Trade Commission on August 11 announced its initiative seeking public comment on the effects of companies’ data collection and the potential benefit of new rules to protect consumers’ privacy.
Other states are drafting new regulations aimed at mitigating the harmful effects of social media as well.