New Bill Would Make Social Media Liable for Harming Kids

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-MO speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine Texas' abortion law, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, Sept. 29, 2021.
Sen. Josh Hawley (Image credit: Tom Williams / POOL / AFP via Getty Images)

As part of the "social media as piñata" Big Tech bashing this week, which included Hill hearings on online privacy and Instagram's impact on children, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has introduced a bill that would make social media companies liable "for bodily or mental harm their products cause to children."

The bill would remove websites' Sec. 230 immunity from civil liability, allowing parents to sue for damages from social media companies for "bodily injury or harm to mental health that is attributable, in whole or in part, to the individual’s use of a covered interactive computer service provided by the social media company."

That comes as Facebook was raked over the proverbial coals in a Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee hearing Thursday (Sept. 30) over internal documents that suggest it knew Instagram was harmful to young people, including to their mental health and wellbeing.

Hawley referenced the company in announcing his bill.

“Facebook has long had evidence of the harmful effects their products have on children but covered it up because it would hurt their profits," he said. "These Big Tech monopolies know exactly how addictive and manipulative their products are but they’re content to rake in billions by exploiting children. Parents need to be given the tools to take back control.”

The Hawley bill and the Hill hearing--at which both Democrats and Republicans read a company representative the riot act--were both prompted in part by reports from the Wall Street Journal on internal Facebook research. Those documents were separately supplied to the subcommittee by a whistleblower who has agreed to testify at an Oct. 5 hearing in the same subcommittee, and to talk about the documents on 60 Minutes this Sunday (Oct. 3), according to the network.

Hawley also confronted a Facebook VP about the documents in a Senate Judiciary hearing last week.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.