Will the tech giants be held responsible for social media addiction?

Jamie Nguyen’s use of Instagram began harmlessly enough in seventh grade. There were group chats to schedule meetings with her volleyball team. She enjoyed finding silly, sports-related memes to share with friends.

But very quickly, Nguyen, now 16, began spending a large portion of her workday evenings scrolling through Instagram, TikTok or YouTube. She sought validation from the people who liked her posts and got stuck seeing an endless loop of photos and videos popping up in her feed based on her search history. What’s troubling is that some of the posts made her think she could look better if she followed his advice on how to “get thinner” or develop rock-hard abs in two weeks.

“I was finally on Instagram and TikTok at so many hours of the day that it became super addicting,” said Junior at Evergreen Valley High in San Jose. Over time, she found it difficult to concentrate on homework and became more irritable towards her parents.

DAVIS, CA – JULY 14: Jamie Nguyen, 16, of San Jose is photographed in her dorm room at UC Davis on Sunday, July 24, 2022 in Davis, Calif. Nguyen is at UC Davis for the summer school program. She used to spend about 3 hours a day on social media and knew that she would have to change her habits when school work interrupted her. Nguyen was able to reduce her social media time from 30 to 40 minutes per day, giving her more time to be productive. (Jose Carlos Fajardo / Bay Area Newsgroup)

Such an experience — a teen spending increasing blocks of time online with potentially harmful consequences — is at the center of a national debate about whether the government should require social media companies to protect the mental health of children and teens.

As of August 1, California lawmakers will renew discussion on AB2408, a closely watched bill that would penalize Facebook, Snapchat and other large companies for the algorithms and other features they allow minors like Jamie to use on their platforms for as long as possible. Use to keep for a long time. , The bill passed the Assembly in May, and a revised version was passed unanimously through the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 28.

Experts and industry informers say these companies intentionally design their platforms to be addictive, especially for younger users, and that youth may be more prone to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, sleep deprivation, self-harm and Contribute to the increased risk of suicidal ideation. The bill would allow the state attorney general and county district attorney to sue major social media companies for up to $250,000 if their products cause addiction.

The tech industry opposes AB2408 for several reasons. The bill offers an “overly simplified solution” to a very complex public health issue, said Dylan Hoffman, executive director of California and Southwest for TechNet, a group of technology CEOs and senior executives. He added that many other factors influence adolescent mental health.

But Leslie Kornblum, formerly of Saratoga, doesn’t buy the idea that there was no connection between her 23-year-old daughter’s teenage bouts with anorexia and her immersion in “thinfluencer” culture on Instagram and Pinterest. Kornblum said her daughter, who has now recovered, was inundated with excessive dietary tips about whether to drink water or subsist on egg whites.

Facebook and Instagram’s parent company Meta, faces a growing number of lawsuits from parents who blame social media sites for their children’s mental health struggles. In a lawsuit filed in the US District Court in Northern California against Meta and Snapchat, the parents of a Connecticut girl, Selena Rodriguez, said her obsessive use of Instagram and Snapchat caused her to die before committing suicide in July 2021. Went. The parents said the platform did not provide enough controls to monitor their social media use, and their daughter fled when her phone was confiscated.

The debate over AB2408, known as the Social Media Platform Duty to Children Act, reflects a longstanding tension between the growth and profits of tech companies and the protection of individual users.

A US Surgeon General advisory issued in December called on social media companies to take more responsibility for creating a safer digital environment, noting that in 2020, 81 percent of 14- to 22-year-olds said they used social media either “daily” or “almost continuously.” Between 2009 and 2019 – a period that coincides with the widespread adoption of social media by the public – the proportion of high school students reporting sadness or hopelessness There was a 40 percent increase in the number of people contemplating suicide and a 36 percent increase in those contemplating suicide, the advisory noted.

AB2408 is similar to bills recently proposed in Congress as well as other states. Assembly member Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo) said he co-sponsored the bill with Buffy Wicks (D-Auckland) because he was “intimidated” by mounting evidence, notably from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, that Social media platforms drive products. know they are harmful.

“We’ve learned that[social media companies]are hiring some of the smartest software engineers in the world – the people who put people on the moon two generations ago, but who now have better and better widget designs to embed within themselves. “The platform to attract kids and increase user engagement,” said Cunningham, father of three teenagers and a 7-year-old.

But TechNet’s Hoffman said AB2408’s threat of civil penalties could compel some companies to ban minors from their platforms altogether. In doing so, young people, especially from marginalized communities, may lose access to the online networks they rely on for social connections and support.

In addition, Hoffman argued that AB2408 is unconstitutional because it infringes upon publishers’ First Amendment rights to choose and promote the type of content they wish to share to their audiences.

Cunningham’s denial: AB2408 has nothing to do with regulating content; The bill targets “widgets and gizmos that manipulate the minds of children,” he said.

Jamie Nguyen was able to withdraw from social media, thanks to concerns her parents expressed. But she could do this only by removing Instagram and Tiktok from her phone. Now it is for the MLAs to decide whether the government should come forward or not.

“There’s nothing in the 50 state or federal code that says you can’t design a product feature that is intentionally addictive to children. I think we need to change that,” says Cunningham.

Davis, Ca - July 14: Jamie Nguyen, 16, Of San Jose Is Photographed In Her Dorm Room At Uc Davis On Sunday, July 24, 2022 In Davis, Calif.  Nguyen Is At Uc Davis For The Summer School Program.  She Used To Spend About 3 Hours A Day On Social Media And Knew That She Would Have To Change Her Habits When School Work Interrupted Her.  Nguyen Was Able To Reduce Her Social Media Time From 30 To 40 Minutes Per Day, Giving Her More Time To Be Productive.  (Jose Carlos Fajardo / Bay Area Newsgroup)
DAVIS, CA – JULY 14: Jamie Nguyen, 16, of San Jose is photographed in her dorm room at UC Davis on Sunday, July 24, 2022 in Davis, Calif. Nguyen is at UC Davis for the summer school program. She used to spend about 3 hours a day on social media and knew that she would have to change her habits when school work interrupted her. Nguyen was able to reduce her social media time from 30 to 40 minutes per day, giving her more time to be productive. (Jose Carlos Fajardo / Bay Area Newsgroup)

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