California Moves to Keep Younger Children Off Social Media

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Moving to keep children off websites like Facebook and Instagram, California lawmakers on Thursday approved a bill barring social media companies from opening an account for anyone under the age of 13 without receiving parental consent.

Lawmakers said social media companies aren’t doing enough to protect children on their platforms and called Assembly Bill 1138 an important step in holding Silicon Valley accountable for turning a blind eye to cyberbullying, and to shield children from online predators.

“We are here patching up a system that is in great need of being reviewed, challenged and brought not only to the table, but brought to accountability,” said state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. “The inmates are really running the asylum and we need to get back some control on behalf of our communities and on behalf of our children.”

The measure by Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Chico, essentially aligns state regulations regarding minors’ access to social media with existing federal law. It would give companies a list of methods they can use to obtain consent.

Under the so-called Parent’s Accountability and Child Protection Act, parents could give consent by signing a form, phone call or video conference, and would have to submit a copy of their government-issued identification. The bill bars the companies from keeping the parents’ information or tying it to social media accounts or profiles.

Though Gallagher’s measure received very little opposition during the legislative process, a few Democratic senators raised concerns the bill could have the unintended consequence of harming vulnerable children.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said social media is often one of the only ways that abused LGTBQ youth can communicate or escape abusive parents and asked the Senate to reconsider.

“This bill will result in more isolation of these kids, and more harm to these kids,” Wiener said. “For many of these youth, the only support that they have, the only way that they have to connect to their community, is through the internet.”

Nonetheless, the Senate cleared AB 1138 on a bipartisan 31-4 vote. The bill next goes to the Assembly for a final vote on recent amendments and then to the governor. If enacted, it would take effect July 1, 2021.

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