California bill targets social media companies for fentanyl, firearm sales

New legislation proposed in California's state senate aims to protect kids online by fining social media companies for algorithms that draw young people to dangerous behavior.

Senate Bill 287, introduced by state Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), is trying to eliminate the risk of buying fentanyl, developing eating disorders, or even kill themselves after seeing social media content.

The bill would also aim to stop ads that would lead anyone to buy illegal firearms.

Skinner noted that there is a "disturbing increase" of reports of youth dying after unwittingly taking fentanyl that was sold to them by people who secretly entered the kids' conversations on Snapchat or other platforms. 

In addition, Skinner said arms dealers are increasingly using social media to sell ghost guns. 

"While the social media company itself did not put up the content, they direct you," Skinner told KTVU on Monday. "And we have kids now who think this painkiller might help me, and it's laced with fentanyl and they die."

The bill carries a fine of $250,000 per violation.

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For years, social media companies have argued that they’re not responsible for the content their users post on their platforms. But Skinner said that by creating highly specialized algorithms that can bombard people with harmful and dangerous information, social media companies are no longer operating as online community bulletin boards that can be free from responsibility about what’s uploaded to their sites.

The bill is backed by a coalition of advocacy organizations dedicated to protecting youth online, including the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law and Common Sense Media.

As the bill was just introduced, there is no formal opposition to it. But it's likely to receive challenges from the social media companies, the NRA and pharmaceutical companies.