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California Lawmakers Approve Bill Targeting Social Media Platforms Allowing Sexual Exploitation of Children

California Lawmakers Approve Bill Targeting Social Media Platforms Allowing Sexual Exploitation of Children

The icons of mobile apps are seen on the screen of a smart phone in New Delhi, India, on May 26, 2021. (Sajjad Hussain/AFP via Getty Images)

Carol Cassis

Carol Cassis

9/22/2023

Updated: 9/24/2023

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The California Legislature has passed a bill that would prohibit social media sites from sharing content that sexually exploits minors, with fines ranging from $1 million to $4 million. It was sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk on Sept. 21.
The bill would require social media sites to allow minors shown in such posts the ability to delete them, and provide platforms 30 to 60 days after receiving a report to investigate such content and block it from reappearing.
The bipartisan bill, AB 1394, was introduced in mid-February by Assembly members Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) and Heath Flora (R-Ripon).
If signed into law by Mr. Newsom—he has until Oct. 14 to approve hundreds of bills—the bill will add to the California Privacy Act of 2018, which protects certain user data collected by online platforms, like Instagram and X, formerly Twitter, from being sold or publicly revealed without their consent.
The bill will also require tech companies to notify the reporting user that the platform received their report within 36 hours, and it must issue a formal written determination stating whether or not such content constituted child sexual abuse.
Sites that fail to comply will be required to pay the reporting user up to $250,000 per violation, meaning minors could collect damages from such platforms for not removing sexually explicit content of them.
The bill would take effect in January 2025, and would additionally require social media sites to provide users a method to report sex abuse content to the site. It additionally will require the tech company to locate the source of the originated material if it contains enough identifying information.
Lawmakers cited ongoing concern surrounding sites like Facebook and TikTok for not doing enough to stop the onslaught of child pornography on their platforms as their motivation for introducing such legislation.
“Social media platforms frequently facilitate the sexual abuse, exploitation, and trafficking of children. Social media platforms are aware of this issue and have not taken steps sufficient to stop the problem,” bill authors stated in an analysis.
According to the analysis, whistleblower testimony from a former Facebook employee said the company “does not track the full scale of child sexual abuse on its platforms, and executives refuse to spend funds available to do so to prioritize “return on investment.” They also testified that Facebook’s moderators are “not sufficiently trained and are ill-prepared to prevent child sexual abuse.”
The bill analysis also listed a Forbes review of hundreds of recent TikTok livestreams, which revealed how viewers regularly use the comments to urge young girls to perform acts that appear close to child pornography, rewarding those who do with gifts that can be redeemed for money, or off-platform payments to Venmo, PayPal or Cash App accounts.
The TikTok app logo is seen in this illustration taken on Aug. 22, 2022. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

The TikTok app logo is seen in this illustration taken on Aug. 22, 2022. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Testimony in favor of the bill also included an assistant dean at Harvard Law School who said such actions are “the digital equivalent of going down the street to a strip club filled with 15-year-olds.”
“We are not serious about ending the horror of sexual exploitation and trafficking of children if we do not aggressively address the prominent role gigantic social media platforms knowingly play in facilitating such exploitation and trafficking and re-traumatizing survivors for a lifetime afterwards,” bill authors Ms. Wicks and Mr. Flora said in a joint statement in the bill’s analysis.
The bill passed nearly unanimously in both the state Assembly and Senate, with three and two abstentions, respectively.
Arguments additionally in support of the bill included LookUp, a nonprofit aimed at protecting minors online.
“We … appreciate that this bill also empowers survivors haunted by the prospect of images and videos about them lingering on platforms to require this content be rendered invisible, with the ability to recover penalties against platforms that deny their requests,” the group said in a recent statement.
Those against the bill, including the California Chamber of Commerce and the Civil Justice Association of California, said it would inadvertently harm minors.
“Platforms could choose to disable features that could be misused by perpetrators to traffic children, such as direct messaging, chat forums, or other communicative features,” the groups said in a joint statement. “They could also prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from using their platforms … Though well-intentioned, this bill will result in more lawful speech being removed and fewer online spaces for teens to communicate and share ideas with one another.”
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Carol Cassis

Carol Cassis

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California Insider
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