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California Bill Aims to Block Social Media Algorithmic Feeds For Minors

California Bill Aims to Block Social Media Algorithmic Feeds For Minors

A California lawmaker is proposing legislation aimed at protecting children from dangers associated with social media use, which has been found to be responsible for declining mental health among adolescents.

On Jan. 29, State Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) introduced SB 976, which would prohibit online platforms from using algorithms to curate feeds for minors without the consent of the user’s parent or guardian. The default setting for users under the age of 18 would simply be a reverse chronological display of posts from accounts they follow with no content “recommended, selected, or prioritized” by the app.

The bill would also prevent social media apps from sending notifications to minors overnight or during school hours 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,” Skinner said in a joint statement about the proposed legislation. “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.”

Concern over teen use of social media has become more widespread following new data that has been released documenting the toll the online networking apps take on youth.

The number of U.S. teens who say they spend time online “almost constantly” has doubled since 2015, according to recent data from Pew Research.

Last fall, a research brief published by Gallup and the Institute for Family Studies showed that social media usage is a key factor driving poor mental health among teens. According to the findings, youth who spend more than five hours per day on social media are 60 percent more likely to have suicidal thoughts or harm themselves; 2.4 times more likely to have a negative view of their body; and 40 percent more likely to report feeling sad.

Skinner’s bill comes just days before the U.S. Senate Judiciary’s “Hearing with Five Big Tech CEOs on their Failure to Protect Children Online.”

It also follows a lawsuit filed in Oakland against California-based Meta over deceptive features in Facebook and Instagram designed to get teens addicted to the platforms. In October, a bipartisan group of 33 attorneys general filed a 233-page complaint against Meta, arguing that the company preys on young users’ vulnerabilities.

SB 976 is sponsored by California Attorney General Rob Bonta and the Association of California School Administrators, and has received bipartisan support.

“SB 976 is landmark legislation that I am proudly sponsoring to better protect our children online,” Bonta said in the statement. “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 nine million children who call California home.”

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