California could be first state to hold social media companies liable for harm to children

Neveen Radwan said she didn’t realize the triggers behind her daughter’s eating disorder until she opened the teenager’s phone and scrolled through her Instagram and TikTok feeds.

She said her daughter, then 15, was being bombarded with photoshopped images of rail-thin celebrities in bikinis and videos about extreme, low-calorie diets. In a separate note, Radwan’s daughter had jotted down the heights and weights of a dozen female celebrities, like Kylie Jenner.

“The way that these algorithms work, there’s just like a tidal wave of information,” she said. “No matter what you tell them, how much this stuff isn’t real, there’s no way you can get through.”

Radwan, who lives in San Jose, said she took away her daughter’s phone and tried to persuade her to eat. But the teen was caught in the grips of anorexia — she was hospitalized after her heart rate fell dangerously low and was admitted to a treatment center for people with eating disorders.

Her daughter’s struggles illustrate what many privacy advocates say is the downside to 20-plus years of rapid growth in the digital space: Social media platforms and other sites routinely target child users with their content, but face little, if any, regulation over their practices dealing with youth-oriented content.

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