California Assembly Unanimously Passes Blatantly Unconstitutional Bill To Allow Parents To Sue Websites Because Their Kids Are Depressed

from the stop-it-stop-stop-it dept

Have politicians all gone mad? On the Republican side, we have Texas and Florida trying to stop websites from moderating content, while on the Democratic side, we have New York and elsewhere trying to blame them for not moderating content. And then we have… California. Back in March we had warned about AB 2408, ostensibly a “bi-partisan” bill from Republican Assemblymember Jordan Cunninghan and Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks. This bill shows that even when Democrats and Republicans team up to try to regulate the internet, they make an unconstitutional mess of things.

On Monday — the same day that the 11th Circuit rejected all of the most important parts of Florida’s social media content moderation bill as clearly, easily, obviously unconstitutional — California’s Assembly voted unanimously, 45-0 (though with a whole bunch of abstentions) to move forward with AB 2408.

The bill is very much in the traditional “but think of the children!” mode, and would allow parents to sue any “social media platform” if that parent believes the social media site resulted in the child becoming addicted.

The operative part of the bill says that social media sites have “a duty not to addict child users.” But what the hell does that even mean? While part of the bill says that this includes not using or “selling” a child’s data, another part says that “the development, design, implementation, or maintenance of a design feature, or affordance” cannot lead to addiction that creates any kind of harm.

But, we live in a time where any time anything bad happens, people who don’t want to take responsibility immediately blame the social media tools that were used. So, now, any time any of the painful or harmful things that tons of teenagers have gone through basically forever happens, parents can sue social media companies and blame them. Eating disorder? Self harm? Depression?

Those all happened long before social media existed, but under this bill, if your kid has any of that, you can sue social media companies for damages. This will open up a flood of absolutely frivolous lawsuits.

It also remains an obvious unconstitutional mess, even if you believe that the bill is well-intentioned. At that link, 1st Amendment litigator Adam Sieff explains why, even if the law is meant with the best of intentions, it’s not even remotely constitutional:

The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the First Amendment protects publishers’ decisions to select, arrange and promote content to audiences as a basic exercise of their editorial control and judgment. The protection applies regardless of the medium of communication publishers use to convey information, whether they run a newspaper, cable network, website or social network. And the court has expressly held that the amendment applies to online speech and content moderation practices.

Critically, the rule prevents California, or any state, from enacting a law that would penalize an internet publisher for exercising its judgment about what kinds of content to publish and promote to its audience, just as it prevents California from enacting a law punishing a newspaper for its decisions about what to print on the front page.

It makes no legal difference that social media platforms often create algorithms to apply their editorial judgments. An algorithm is just a set of pre-programmed editorial rules that reflects value judgments made by real people about the kind of content to display and promote. 

To punish a platform’s algorithmic promotion of popular content is, as a constitutional matter, no different than punishing CalMatters for recommending stories to particular users based on their browsing and reading history. Nor, ultimately, is it any different from punishing a tabloid magazine for publishing prurient content on its front page.

So much of this and similar laws seem to be driven by this weird moral panic that anything bad must be blamable on social media. There is little evidence to support this. And, indeed, it misses the complexity of all this. Just to take one example explicitly called out by the bill: eating disorders. As we have shown, multiple studies have argued that merely blaming talk related to eating disorders actually has done more harm than good, and that allowing the conversation to flow often leads to more “pro-recovery” content. The research also showed that attempts to ban such content don’t work because the people who want to talk about eating disorders are going to find a way to do so no matter what, even if they have to make up new words and phrases to make it work.

So if you’re a social media platform how do you deal with this? If you want to avoid lawsuits under this law, you’re likely to shut down any such content and discussions. But that won’t help, because kids will keep having those discussions, they’ll just come up with code words for it. And, because of that, it will be even harder for those trying to help those kids to recover to find and participate in those conversations.

The end result: websites getting sued in more frivolous lawsuits, and kids at even greater risk than before.

The only people this “helps” are parents who don’t want to accept some responsibility if their kids run into problems. That’s not to say that when kids have problems it is the parents’ fault. Sometimes that may contribute to it, though often it’s independent of that. But parents are so scared of anyone thinking they’re bad parents, that it’s quite tempting to have a target like a big social media company to sue.

This is an unconstitutional garbage law that is designed to appease guilty parents in the midst of a moral panic.

The bill still needs to pass the Senate and have the governor sign it, so if you live in California, reach out to your state Senator now and ask them to oppose this. Even if it’s well intentioned, it will do a lot more damage than good.

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Comments on “California Assembly Unanimously Passes Blatantly Unconstitutional Bill To Allow Parents To Sue Websites Because Their Kids Are Depressed”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Easy way to turn this around if they had the guts

California: If social media does anything that might make kids worse off and/or they happen to serve as a great scapegoat for that they’ll be sued.

Social media: Okay, well we’ll be challenging this blatant unconstitutional Look At Us Doing Something/Think of The Children bill but until then we’ll be prohibiting any person under 18 and who lives in california from using our platforms, and you’d better believe we’re going to be telling them exactly who to blame for that.

California: But… that’s us, you can’t blame us when we’re trying to blame everything on you! Our kids are going to scream our ears off!

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Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re:

I don’t think the idea is to actually block access to under-eighteens, I think it’s to block access to California citizens whose dates of birth show them to be under-eighteen, giving rise to a whole load of annoyance and violations of ToSes (which the DoJ has said it will no longer prosecute as CFAA abuses) that the California legislature can rightly be blamed for.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well of course, I mean it’s not like someone could or would ever lie about their age online, what sort of madness would that be?

The point wouldn’t be to actually keep them off the service, the point would be to show the ones who have admitted to being a lower age than the cutoff the door and letting the parents/politicians take the heat for that, and when it turns out that they’re still using social media the company can point to the very clear language in their updated TOS prohibiting their access as evidence that to the extent that there are ‘underage’ users from california on the platform it’s in spite of their rules and not in any way because they welcomed them.

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bhull242 (profile) says:

Just goes to show that many people’s brains just turn off whenever anyone says, “Think of the children!”

Sorry Californian lawmakers, but that’s not how it works. In addition to being unconstitutional AF, it completely ignores how addiction and the internet work.

While websites do try to be as addictive as possible, the fact is that people who actually get addicted to behaviors (rather than substances that create chemical dependence) often do so without much help. Shopping addiction occurs whether or not retailers try to make the shopping experience addictive, binge-eating disorder occurs whether or not grocery stores and restaurants try to make their food addictive, gambling addiction occurs whether or not casinos and those who run lotteries try to make their services addictive, video-game addiction occurs whether or not the devs try to make their games addictive, and, yes, social-media addiction occurs whether or not the owners make their platforms addictive. (That’s not to say that there isn’t a line to be crossed regarding making your good or service addictive, but that’s pretty rare, mostly involving gambling and specific aspects of gaming like loot boxes, and social media—as far as I can tell—haven’t yet come close to crossing that line.)

And people on the internet always find ways around restrictions. They’ll use codewords and euphemisms to get around content filters or find another place to spread their content. Kids are no less skilled at finding ways around restrictions than anyone else, and they often do. Growing up, I remember classmates frequently found ways around the school filters to access stuff that was supposed to have been blocked by the filter, and bypassing age-restrictions is often trivial.

Ultimately, the problem is often that adults try to use TV, games, social media, etc. as a babysitter but fail to even try to monitor what kind of content they find or place and enforce limits on how much time they can spend on it, and then they are shocked at what their kids have or that their kids are now (seemingly) addicted. I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you expected to happen.

ECA (profile) says:

Damned if you do

Damned if you dont.

Its the Blame game.

Its amazing how some of this works.
Companies have raised the amounts of work people need to do by 3x since the 70’s, so that the companies can make more money. So that companies can hire LESS people. And work you like a dog in HEAT 24/7/365.
Then those that find themselves without WORK. Keep getting service cut because there isnt enough money in the system to keep it going, and the FED hasnt figured out its BEST to create jobs then to let people SIT at home.
Then we get Folks that THINK making MORE babies will HELP the system.
No one is at home to help the kids with GROWING UP or their Education Which is suffering because SOME PEOPLE, think you should not be taught certain things.(science beware) This Nation had some great ideals in the past, until someone found out they could make MONEY if they charged for it, then bought out the Whole industry.

Iv suggested to my friends about politics.
It dont matter who is in charge, its only WHO is getting paid, by who, to make the laws.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


I’m loathe to agree with you because you’re generally an insufferable nitwit and a coward who can’t answer One Simple Question. But yes, social media is built on the same kind of addictive principles that govern slot machines. Realizing that and examining how I was using social media ultimately led me to cut back my social media usage by an absurd degree⁠—which included quitting Twitter.

Social media is like tic-tac-toe and global thermonuclear war: The only winning move is not to play.

ECA says:

Re: Re:

Considering Kevlar is only Cloth based
And there are others that have Break-away plates

As we mentioned by 1 person on site, even with 2000kg of protection, the Newtons involved are in the millions.
No designation as to the type of round
A sabot type is fairly small compared to the 105mm barrel. IT would Drill RIGHT THRU.
A full sized 105 thats around 40lbs, Would Smash thru it into whats behind, as its able to get thru 4″ of metals.
Explosive rounds? Dont ask.

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Blake Stacey (profile) says:

Now, now, let’s not be hasty. This whole “suing because the children are depressed” idea might have potential. For example, how about we sue politicians because the children are depressed over their planet being fucked.

Naughty Autie says:

Re: Re:

That’s not the same thing at all. Children suing governments for violating their rights by promoting pollution (which hasn’t caused climate change, IMO, but is still bad) is far different from parents suing websites because they were too busy too be good parents until their child attempts suicide or otherwise commits an act of self-harm.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

No, it was the Season 7 episode “All about the Mormons”, and throughout the episode there were musical stings that went “dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb”. Eric Cartman didn’t appear in the episode. Trey and Matt did other works that reference the Mormon church (Orgazmo!, The Book of Mormon), and Trey used to date some Mormons, so the subject isn’t completely alien to them.

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

That whole stop making stupid people famous thing…
Can we stop cheering for assholes who pretend to do something but have no fucking chance of doing anything?

The nation has so many problems & yet more time, effort, tax money is spent floating these ideas that were dead on arrival.

Stop cheering them on to “do something” and start asking what actual problems have you addressed in a manner that doesn’t require shredding the founding rights of the nation.

They start a fire, then take credit for stopping the fire, while fanning the flames to spread even further.
Maybe stop letting them have matches??

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John85851 (profile) says:

Guns and social media

So legislators are passing laws that allow parents to sue social media companies if something bad happens to their kids, but parents aren’t allowed to sue gun companies when their children are shot and killed?
Either way, the death is the fault of the user of the item, not the item itself.
But the gun lobby spends more money than the social media money, so let’s blame social media for all of society’s problems.

Mole says:


You want to know why the vote was ‘unanimous’? Politicians don’t vote for bills and law, they vote for commercials. A vote against a stupid bill turns into a commercial: “senator x voted against a bill that would have protected children from being exploited by greedy social media companies.” Ok so vote for it even though you know it won’t go forward and you know it is stupid.

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