Hawley to introduce law holding social media companies accountable for harm they cause to children
Missouri Senator Josh Hawley is introducing legislation that would establish a federal tort against social media companies to hold them accountable if they cause bodily or mental harm to children.
“Like Big Tobacco before it, Big Tech offers products it knows to be harmful,” said a spokesperson for Hawley in a statement explaining the legislation. “At a Senate hearing last week, a Facebook representative did not even say, in response to Senator Hawley’s questions, that using Instagram is safe. Social media companies shouldn’t be allowed to continue profiting from the exploitation of children. “
The Missouri Republican legislation comes after a Wall Street Journal report showed Facebook’s own internal documents admit their products, including Instagram, are harming children’s mental health.
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“We worsen body image problems for one in three teenage girls,” read some of the documents.
“Teens have told us that they don’t like the time they spend on the app but feel like they need to be there. They often feel ‘addicted’ and know what ‘they see is bad for their mental health but feel unable to stop,’ read another section.
Facebook internal research shows that Instagram was particularly harmful to teens, with 13% of UK users and 6% of US users having suicidal thoughts saying they could escalate those thoughts to Instagram.
But in public, Facebook has played down the negative impact their products can have on teenage users.
“The research we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive effects on mental health,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at a hearing at Congress earlier this year.
Adam Mosseri, Instagram’s manager for the company, said the platform’s negative effect on teenage users is “quite small.”
“I don’t want to diminish these problems in any way… Some of the problems mentioned in this story are not necessarily widespread, but their impact on people can be huge,” Mosseri told reporters in May.
Hawley’s legislation will seek to tackle issues reported by The Wall Street Journal by holding social media companies accountable for any harm their platforms do to children.
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The bill seeks to shut down Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which currently protects social media companies from lawsuits.
“By creating a federal offense, this law would ensure that children can assert their rights and protect themselves from harm,” the spokesperson said. “Children injured by social media could get substantial monetary damages, including punitive damages, from social media companies that harm them.”