Bill would protect youth from social media harms
Sen. Nancy Skinner’s bill would be the first law of its kind in the nation
February 5, 2024
State Sen. Nancy Skinner has introduced SB 976, landmark legislation co-sponsored by ACSA and California Attorney General Rob Bonta that would protect children from the dangers associated with social media addiction. If enacted, SB 976 would be the first such law in the nation.
Under SB 976, online platforms would be barred from sending an addictive social media feed to a minor without the consent of the youth’s parent or guardian. The groundbreaking bill would also prohibit a social media platform from sending notifications to minors during overnight hours and during the school day without the consent of a parent or guardian.
“Social media companies have designed their platforms to addict users, especially our kids. Countless studies show that once a young person has a social media addiction, they experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem,” said Skinner, D-Berkeley, in a Jan. 29 news release announcing the bill. “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.”
The introduction of SB 976 came two days before the U.S. Senate held a bipartisan hearing with five Big Tech CEOs on “their failure to protect children online.” The legislation also follows a major lawsuit filed in Oakland by California and dozens of other states against Meta over deceptive features in Facebook and Instagram that hook teens and harm their mental health.
SB 976, “Protecting Our Kids from Social Media Addiction,” is co-authored by a bipartisan group of state senators: Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica; Angelique Ashby, D-Sacramento; María Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles; Susan Rubio, D-Baldwin Park; and Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita.
“SB 976 is landmark legislation that I am proudly sponsoring to better protect our children online,” said Bonta, in a news release. “Social media companies are employing harmful platform features while misleading young users, their families, and the public about the addictive quality of those features. Enough is enough. It is everyone’s responsibility to protect our children. I am grateful to collaborate with Senator Skinner in introducing this urgently needed legislation and protecting the health of the almost 9 million children who call California home.”
Over the years, social media companies have purposely designed their platforms to addict users to increase profits. Research also shows that youth are particularly susceptible to psychologically manipulative algorithms that induce young users to compulsively spend time on platforms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that children in the U.S. spend between 6 to 14 hours per day in front of a screen, with much of that time viewing social media content.
“ACSA supports healthy learning environments for California’s children who, more than ever, need positive affirming influences that support their social/emotional and academic well-being,” said ACSA Executive Director Edgar Zazueta, in the news release. “Given all of the challenges facing today’s students both on and off school campuses, we believe tools to help enhance focus and discourage disruption are in the best interest of young learners and educators alike.”
Social media companies keep youth addicted with features such as notifications to their phones, tablets or laptops that lure kids back to the platform or app at all hours of the day. And research has linked social media addiction among youth with higher rates of depression, anxiety, lack of sleep and low self-esteem.
To date, New York is the only other state to introduce legislation similar to SB 976. With “Protecting Our Kids from Social Media Addiction,” online platforms and apps would be barred from sending any addictive social media feed to youth without the consent of a parent or guardian. In addition, social media companies would be prohibited from sending notifications to youth from midnight to 6 a.m., and on school days from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., without parental consent.
This bill would also mandate that social media platforms set a default time limit of one hour daily that can be adjusted by parents; ensure that the default setting for a minor’s account is “private;” and give the California AG the authority to set regulations to ensure compliance with the bill.
“This bill puts parents back in the driver’s seat. It’s time to get out of the wild, wild west and put guardrails in place to prevent social media companies from bombarding our kids with highly addictive and dangerous content,” said Wilk.