Should social networks be required to protect children’s health?

Should social networks be required to protect children’s health?


California wants to force social networks like Instagram and TikTok or online gaming platforms to put the interests of children before their profits.

Californian parliamentarians adopted on Tuesday August 30, 2022 a text intended to oblige social networks like Instagram and TikTok or online gaming platforms to put the interests of children before their profits. The text must now be signed by Governor Gavin Newsom to definitively become law and be applied in this state which is home to Silicon Valley and its tech giants.

All companies offering online services dedicated to those under 18 or likely to be used by minors “must take into account the best interests of children when designing, developing and providing” their services, it is stated there.

“When there is a conflict between commercial interests and the best interests of children, companies must prioritize the privacy, safety and well-being of children over commercial interests”, is it then added in the text scheduled to enter into force in 2024.

Social networks are regularly accused of having harmful effects on younger users, for example by overexposing them to the seemingly ideal lives of other people or to inappropriate advertisements.

A law inspired by a text adopted in the United Kingdom in 2021

The law would require platforms to install settings that offer a high level of data protection for minors by default. It would also prohibit them from collecting, sharing or selling any personal information that is not necessary for the proper functioning of the service.

She also wants to prevent social networks from using any functionality that they know is harmful to the health, physical or mental, of the youngest users.

The California law, the first of its kind in the United States, is inspired by a text adopted in the United Kingdom in 2021.

“We have seen through British law that tech companies can be regulated,” said the main author of the text adopted on Tuesday, Democrat Buffy Wicks, in a press release.

If the law is signed into law by the governor, “we hope that this model will be emulated by other American states and other countries around the world,” she added.

Some critics have already called on Mr. Newsom to reject the text, like the association representing companies offering online services NetChoice.

California lawmakers also passed a law on Tuesday requiring social networks to publicly disclose their policies on online hate, misinformation, extremism and harassment.

For NetChoice, these two texts represent “far too restrictive regulations that harm families and violate the first amendment” guaranteeing freedom of expression in the United States.

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