Senator Padilla Introduces Legislation Protecting Children from Harmful Social Media Algorithms
SACRAMENTO – Last week, Senator Steve Padilla (D-San Diego) introduced Senate Bill 764, prohibiting social media platforms from instituting polices that will increase engagement of minors to the detriment of their health.
Over the past several years, pandemic-related isolation has had an overwhelming negative impact on teenage mental health, which has been exacerbated further by a rise in social media use. Recently, the Center for Disease Control released its Youth Risk Behavior Survey and in the report, close to 60% of teen girls surveyed stated they had experienced “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” in the previous year, while 30% had seriously considered suicide. These figures are in stark contrast to past surveys. Teen girls reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness have risen 20% since 2014, while teen boys have also experienced an increase, with the percentage rising from 20% to roughly 30%.
In testimony to the US Senate Judiciary Committee, the Chief Science Officer of the American Psychological Association, Mitch Prinstein, PhD, stressed the undue influence social media platforms have on teens. The testimony highlights features of social media that exploit biological vulnerabilities in developing neural pathways so that “social media stimuli, such as receiving ‘likes’ or followers activates the social reward regions of the brain.” It also emphasized studies that “compared social media use to diagnostic criteria for substance use dependencies, revealing that many adolescents report an inability to stop using social media, even when they want to.” All of these factors can be sources of digital stress, which is “one of the strongest predictors of children’s and adolescents’ mental health difficulties, including suicidal behavior.”
“It is no coincidence that these terrifying statistics have risen alongside the pervasiveness of social media platforms,” said Senator Padilla. “These platforms are knowingly exposing our children to harmful algorithms and content and then profiting off their struggles. This is the digital tobacco for this generation’s teenagers, and it is, quite literally, killing our future.”
Social media companies have begun to incorporate predictive algorithms designed to grab and hold a user’s attention without consideration of the cost of that sustained attention. Through optimization made possible by AI, these companies have exploited an audience in their formative years, profiting off harm to teenagers, specifically teenage girls.
“SB 762 is an important corrective to the key problem with social media: the platform's relentless focus on maximizing engagement comes at a huge cost to children's and teen's mental health and safety,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director at nonprofit advocacy organization, Fairplay. “Algorithms designed to keep kids glued to social media platforms often serve up content that is harmful and even deadly. Unregulated social media has been a disaster for young people's wellbeing and we thank Senator Padilla for introducing this important bill."
"Senator Padilla's bill seeks to prohibit the core irresponsibility of the social media giants --prioritizing profits over child health and well-being,” said Ed Howard, Sr. Counsel at the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law. “It is a critical and reinforcing compliment to the many, many state measures across the nation that seek, once and for all, to stop a tiny handful of companies from helping to wreck a generation of children."
SB 764 would prohibit a social media platform from adopting or implementing a practice related to the targeting of content to minors that prioritizes user engagement over the safety, health, and well-being of minor users. This threshold would be met if the social media platform knows or it is reasonably foreseeable that its practice will cause a hate crime, harassment of minor users, or a violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which provides protection from discrimination by all businesses in California on the basis of age, ancestry, color, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation. The bill would make knowing violation of these provisions punishable by civil penalty.
Steve Padilla represents the 18th Senate District, which includes the communities of Chula Vista, the Coachella Valley, Imperial Beach, the Imperial Valley, National City, and San Diego. Prior to his election to the Senate in 2022, Senator Padilla was the first person of color ever elected to city office in Chula Vista, the first Latino Mayor, and the first openly LGBT person to serve or be elected to city office. Website of Senator Steve Padilla: https://sd18.senate.ca.gov/