LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Surgeon General recently issued a warning that social media presents a “profound risk” to the mental health and well-being of children and teens. 

Dr. Vivek Murthy’s advisory noted that there may be some benefits to social media, but that more research is needed. 

“At this time, we do not yet have enough evidence to determine if social media is sufficiently safe for children and adolescents,” the advisory stated. 

In California, state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Oakland, has proposed legislation designed to hold social media companies accountable for targeting harmful content to children. 

Skinner spoke to “Inside the Issues” host Alex Cohen about her concerns.

“The stats show our children are using social media an enormous number of hours a day,” she said. “What we’re trying to address with a bill like Senate Bill 287 is how do we get our social media [companies] to act more responsibly. And while they do not control the content, they definitely control the algorithms and how they direct people to content.”

A report released last December by the Center for Countering Digital Hate found that TikTok algorithms promoted videos about self harm and eating disorders to teens. 

Researchers found that once a user “liked” content about self harm and eating disorders, the platform recommended videos about losing weight, self-harm, images of razor blades and discussion of suicide within minutes. 

Back when the report was published in 2022, TikTok disagreed with the results, saying that the researchers did not use the platform like typical users and that it affected the findings.  

Under SB 287, social media companies operating in the state of California would be unable to use algorithms that target content to young users that prompt them to harm themselves, develop an eating disorder, take their lives or buy fentanyl. 

“What we are finding with these overdose deaths amongst our young people is that they’re not going down on the street and buying from a drug dealer on the street. They’re procuring this on social media,” Skinner said. 

She said the bill is designed for social media companies to take responsibility themselves. 

“We will not have to ever take them to court if they take that responsibility and they stop directing our kids to harmful content. But if they don’t, we have to have a tool,” Skinner said.

If SB 287 becomes law, companies that do not comply could be fined up to $250,000.

Skinner also spoke about the fight for reproductive rights. After the recent challenges over the fight for abortion medication mifepristone, Skinner put out a statement saying “Abortion restrictions are about power.” She recently introduced SB 345. The legislation is aimed at helping those who might come to California from out of state to receive health care, including abortions. 

“We’re looking at many states basically trying to interfere with doctors, with health care providers being able to do what they believe is right for their patients. And that’s in both gender-affirming care. And when it comes to contraception and reproduction abortion,” she said. “I want our health care practitioners in California to be protected for their medical decisions regardless of the patient’s location.”

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