Oct 16, 2023
Governor Gavin Newsom has signed California Assembly Bill 1394 (AB 1394) into law, a move that is intended to hold social media platforms liable for failing to combat child sexual abuse material (CSAM) and allowing child sex trafficking.
AB 1394 is new legislation that would hold social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and Snap liable through potential civil litigation for “knowingly facilitating, aiding, or abetting commercial sexual exploitation,” according to the bill’s language.
The law is scheduled to take effect in January 2025, and if social media platforms like TikTok or Instagram fail to curb the spread of online child sexual abuse material, a court would be required to issue damages awards between $1 million and $4 million for each act of exploitation that the respective platform “facilitated, aided, or abetted.”
“The platforms could avoid lawsuits by conducting biannual audits to detect potentially harmful designs, algorithms and features and fix any problems,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
The legislation makes California the first state in the nation to enact a law that seeks to curb the spread of child sexual abuse material through what CBS News referred to as a “two-pronged approach.”
AB 1394 will firstly permit survivors of child sex trafficking and CSAM sue platforms in civil court for knowingly contributing to such crimes.
Secondly, it requires platforms to “establish a process by which survivors of child sex abuse can demand that the platforms remove videos and images of their abuse,” CBS News said.
Companies like TikTok and Facebook will have 36 hours to take down material once it is reported to them, Natalia Garcia, a spokesperson for Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that reviews and rates children’s media that co-sponsored the bill, told CBS.
“But the total damages are in the hands of the judge in the end,” she added.
However, if social media platforms are able to demonstrate that they are actively working to remove and curb the spread of online sexual abuse material, the law offers a “safe harbor” from the aforementioned $1 million to $4 million damages awards for individual infractions.
AB 1394 was authored by California Sate Assemblymember Buffy Wicks. It’s sponsors included:
“This law underscores our state’s dedication to defending the most vulnerable among us, and sends a resounding message to other states and tech platforms that using the internet to exploit children will no longer go unchecked,” Wicks said in a statement last week.
“Everybody who cares about elevating the needs of sexually abused children above Big Tech profits should thank Governor Newsom and Assemblymember Wicks for their leadership,” Ed Howard, senior counsel for the Children’s Advocacy Institute, said in a statement.
CBS News reported that AB 1394 was opposed by:
The Los Angeles Times said that the tech companies opposed AB 1394 due to its potential “chilling effect” on free speech, citing the possibility for social media platforms to end up “pulling down more lawful content or disabling features popular among teens.”
“The groups haven’t said if they planned to sue over AB 1394, but signaled to lawmakers that legal challenges could be coming,” the Los Angeles Times added.
AB 1394 also mandates that social media platforms offer California users a way to report child sexual abuse material they’re depicted in and respond to the report within the 36-hour window. Failing to meet various requirements – including permanently blocking child sexual abuse material from being viewed – would also open up companies like Instagram and TikTok to liability for multimillion dollar damages awards.
The Scope of the Online Child Sex Abuse Material Problem
CSAM has been an ongoing issue for social media platforms, but with the proliferation of artificial intelligence, the spread of this type of content has increased substantially.
In 2021, social media platforms and websites in the United States accounted for a 64% increase in child sex abuse URLs. The U.S. hosts more online child sexual abuse content than any other nation in the world, responsible for 30% of the global total of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) URLs at the end of March 2022.
And a BBC report indicated that:
“Since the pandemic there has been a near four-fold increase in the amount of content where offenders are accessing children remotely. That often happens when children are in bedrooms alone and have an internet-enabled device with a camera built in,” Emma Hardy, from the Internet Watch Foundation, told the BBC.
If you’re the victim of online child sexual abuse, you may be able to pursue legal remedies including recovering financial compensation by filing a claim in California civil court.
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and personal injury concerns.