By Rena Abdusalam
SACRAMENTO, CA – California State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, has introduced SB 287, which she claims will hold social media platforms accountable for encouraging the illegal sale of fentanyl and unlawful firearms, such as ghost guns, to California youth.
SB 287 would also hold the platforms accountable for other dangerous content that could have suicide, eating disorders, detrimental dieting practices, or inflicting harm on themselves and others as an outcome.
Sen. Skinner said, “Research demonstrates that social media companies’ algorithms direct their users to specific content, including to content that promotes extremely dangerous and harmful practices. Children are particularly vulnerable to becoming addicted to these platforms and are being targeted with content that facilitates the sale of deadly fentanyl and promotes eating disorders, suicide, and other harmful practices.
“Additionally, social media sites promote the sale of illegal firearms, including ghost guns that can’t be traced. It’s time for California to hold social media companies accountable…(the bill) will help curb dangerous content by strengthening the legal rights that Californians have to stop social media from targeting users with harmful information via specialized algorithms, especially our kids.”
SB 287, the lawmaker said, is supported by many advocacy organizations that are dedicated to keep youth from harmful online content, including the Children’s Advocacy at the University of San Diego School of Law and Common Sense Media.
Senior Counsel, Children’s Advocacy Institute, University of San Diego School of Law and supporter of SB 287, Ed Howard, stated, “As documented over and again, a tiny handful of rich and powerful companies are knowingly and carelessly causing an unprecedented number of our children — just children — to die by taking their own lives, by fentanyl overdoses, from choking challenges, from addiction, and causing life-altering child anguish on a scale never before seen.
“What these companies are doing knowingly or negligently just to make even more money is morally repugnant, offending every notion of human decency and it needs to stop — now.”
“We thank Sen. Skinner for introducing this vital bill to protect California’s children from serious online harms,” said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, calling the measure one of the most crucial tech policy bills that will come before the Legislature this year.
“Large social media companies must be held accountable for the addictive design features they use to keep kids and teens using their products longer than is healthy for them to do so and for facilitating spaces where young people are targeted with unhealthy content and products, including fentanyl, which puts their lives at risk,” Steyer continued.
Bill proponents claim social media platforms have created highly specialized algorithms that can attack people with dangerous information, even though the companies continue their argument of not being responsible for the content users post on the platforms. The companies are no longer running as online community bulletin boards that are careful about what is put on their sites.
Supporters of the measure maintain there has been a recent alarming increase of reports about youth dying after unintentionally taking fentanyl. As the fentanyl was sold to them by people who covertly entered their conversations on Snapchat or other programs, arms dealers are also similarly using social media to sell ghost guns, which are illegal guns that cannot be tracked down by law enforcement and contribute majorly to gun violence.
Additionally, alleged TikTok choking challenges and blackout challenges have taken the lives of several children under the age of 12 around the world, Skinner’s office explains.
The bill cites, “In order to maximize advertising revenue, social media algorithms are designed to addict users by providing content that reflects the user’s preferences and curiosities, which leads to exacerbating these harmful online trends. Users can be guided to dangerous paths on the platforms, especially considering that the average teen spends 7.5 hours a day on digital programs.”
SB 287, said Skinner, would ban social media platforms working in California from using algorithms or other features that target child users. This would include prohibiting content that evoke them to purchase fentanyl, inflict harm on themselves or others, grow eating disorders or dangerous dieting, and commit suicide.
Additionally, SB 287 would bar social media companies from utilizing algorithms or other technology that would prompt people to buy unlawful firearms, such as ghost guns.
Violations of SB 287 committed by any social media company would be subject to fines up to $250,000 per violation and are liable to pay attorneys’ fee and court costs related to implementing the bill.
“Social media companies are no longer passive actors in the online marketplace. They’re active participants that decide what users see and what they don’t. As a result, they must be held responsible when their algorithms purposely target our children with dangerous or harmful content,” Sen. Skinner said.
Supporters of SB 287 stress there needs to be accountability for the social media companies.
“The average teenager spends 7.5 hours daily on digital platforms. We have condoms for sex, cars with seat belts, yet we have no standard of safety for the place that the average American teen is spending 8 hours a day. The Digital Rights Revolution is unfolding before our eyes and the world is counting on California to lead the charge and save the next generation,” said Larissa May, Founder of “Half the Story.”
“I have struggled with mental health issues my entire life, but everything got significantly worse in my teens, which happened to be when Instagram first started gaining popularity. When I started treatment for mental health and eating disorders, I was forced to delete Instagram, and that helped immensely. I was no longer encouraged to lose weight and hurt myself every time I picked up my phone.
“Years have gone by and I am now doing much better and have become active on Instagram again. Recently, I have been very frustrated with advertisements that pollute my feed and stories. I am constantly seeing videos of people advocating for quick weight-loss solutions, including the popular ‘booty mask’ and magic weight loss shakes,” said college student, Kara long.
Long added, “Being in recovery, seeing this is incredibly triggering. I have tried to use the feature on Instagram where you click on an ad and ask them to not show you ads like that, but then I just get different versions of the same things I tried to block. This is something that bothers me every day and makes it more difficult to maintain a positive, recovery-focused mindset.”
Levi E., a 15-year-old, added, “The pressure of social media weighs down so many teens these days, and when social media advertises and glamorizes hurtful methods of coping, it targets the most vulnerable teens. I’ve seen the effects of this first-hand and how hard it is to get out of the social media loop that pulls you in.”
“As a mother whose son died from a choking challenge on a social media platform, I believe all social media platforms should be clearly responsible to a family if the platform knew or should have known their products are possibly lethal to children,” said Judy Brogg.
She added, “I challenge Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and Snap to explain how any parent can ever sleep well at night knowing that some of the wealthiest corporations in history believe themselves unaccountably free forever knowingly to offer possibly lethal products to our children.”
College student, Emi Kim stated the bill would “help so many young people. It would help protect kids during the never-ending battle between me, myself, and I. From school, friends, and growing up, there is already so much that young people have to worry about. This bill would help make sure that social media, something that is supposed to be a fun way to connect with our friends, is and stays safe.”
“Social media can provide a valuable means of connecting young people but can also cause significant harm,” declared Sarita Patel, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Jewish Family and Children’s Services.
Dr. Patel added, “It is imperative that we address the role that social media plays in contributing to specific psychiatric disorders, including eating disorders, suicidal ideation and self-harm, and substance abuse.”