Alan Riquelmy

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — The California Legislature on Monday overwhelmingly approved two bills that would change how social media companies do business.

Assembly Bill 3172 — written by Assemblymember Josh Lowenthal, a Long Beach Democrat — would affect social media platforms with over $100 million in annual gross revenue. Those companies would be liable if they failed to provide “ordinary care and skill” to juveniles.

Senate Bill 976 — written by state Senator Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat — would prohibit a social media company from providing addictive feeds to children.

Both passed their respective chambers and will now move to the other side of the Capitol.

Speaking in support of the Assembly bill, Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, an Orinda Democrat, compared the legislation to a store ensuring that its customers don’t slip and fall.

“Our kids are being harmed,” Bauer-Kahan said. “One in four teens are thinking about suicide.”

A social media company that violates existing law about neglect or intentional harm could face whichever is the most: a $5,000 fine per violation — up to a maximum of $1 million — or three times the amount of the damages.

Committee staff in a bill analysis wrote that entities, including social media companies, owe people a duty of care. Failing in that duty can lead to a lawsuit over negligence.

Lowenthal’s bill doesn’t change that aspect of the law. Instead, it raises the damages someone could recover in a lawsuit if the person injured is a minor.

Assemblymember Joe Patterson, a Rocklin Republican, said he figured his party would oppose the bill, or not vote on it, when it appeared in committee. Instead, while noting he wants to see changes in the liability aspect of the bill, he spoke in support of it Monday on the Assembly floor.

“The issue itself is so important,” Patterson said. “Let’s keep this process going.”

Assemblymember Josh Hoover, a Folsom Republican, also supported the bill. According to Hoover, reports of suicide and depression began to grow around 2010, around the same time social media grew its reach and access to smartphones increased.

Citing a March story in The Atlantic, committee staff wrote that rates of depression and suicide rose by over 50% in many students from 2010 to 2019. For those between 10 and 19, suicide rates rose by 48%. It’s a trend that mirrors a time when teens were switching their flip phones for smartphones.

Arguing in support of his bill, Lowenthal said the legislation merely calls for social media companies to be responsible for any harm they cause. He said every parent he’s spoken with shares the same concerns about children — the increase in anxiety, depression, eating disorders and suicide.

“This is not a new issue, but rather it’s getting louder and louder by the day,” Lowenthal said.

Skinner’s bill also would bring significant change to social media in the Golden State. Under her legislation, companies that operate an “addictive internet-based service or application” would be prohibited from providing an “addictive feed” to a child, unless they have parental permission.

Companies also couldn’t send notifications to a minor, without a parent’s permission, between midnight and 6 a.m., as well as between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday from September to May.

State Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman, a Stockton Democrat, said her teen daughter — facing finals — handed over her phone last week while studying. She feared being “sucked down a rabbit hole,” Eggman said. Not every child will do that.

“Countless studies show that once a young person has a social media addiction, they experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem,” Skinner wrote in a bill analysis. “We’ve waited long enough for social media companies to act. SB 976 is needed now to establish sensible guardrails so parents can protect their kids from these preventable harms.”