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Parents Could Soon Be Able To Sue Social Media Companies for Addicting Their Children

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Catalina Coppel, 10, is aching to get a cell phone so she can be a social media butterfly.

She says she’s the only person in her class without one and is looking forward to taking pictures to post on all the social media apps.

Both her parents are worried.

“My concern is you open the door to a lot of things when they're out there. If I can postpone it a little bit, it'll be better for her mental health,” said her mother, Rosantina.

Research indicates there’s an increase in anxiety, depression and suicide in youth that correlates with increased social media use, according to Jessica Heldman at the University of San Diego School of Law Children's Advocacy Institute.

The organization is sponsoring Assembly Bill 2408 with bipartisan support. It would allow parents to sue social media companies like Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat for addicting children to their apps. It's one step closer to reality after passing the California State Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

“They hire psychiatrists and neuroscientists to work on design, so they can really expand their bottom line and get as many users as possible. That's an insidious way to use psychology against kids," explained Heldman.

Suing social media companies is not new.

The mother of Selena Rodriguez is among parents who've filed suit against Instagram and Snapchat. She claims her 11-year-old daughter died by suicide after developing an addiction to the social media apps.

AB-2408 defines addiction as a mental health issue or symptom that may need treatment or intervention and aims to better hold social media companies accountable.

“We have a crisis that we’re concerned about now. So regulation should be worked on, but we have this mechanism through lawsuits to change the financial incentives. There are hefty damages," Heldman said.

Companies could face $1,000 or more per child in a class-action suit or $25,000 per year, per child in a civil suit.

City Heights parent Shaun Jones calls social media the “biggest drug known to man these days.”

He not only sees the allure cell phones and apps have for his 8-year-old nephew, but his 2-year-old daughter as well.

He was among the minority of people we talked to supporting a parent's right to sue.

“She’s only one swipe away from seeing something she should never see in her life," said Jones.

San Diego High sophomore Clark Tansey says he uses social media for messaging but understands its draw.

“It’s very easy to get too far in and lose consciousness," he said.

Tansey's father was among the parents concerned about a litigious society, citing the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial, saying it’s “ridiculous.”

They say parents should ultimately police their kids on social media, not the court of law.

Snapchat and TikTok have yet to respond to NBC 7's requests for comment.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, responded in part saying:

"We disagree. Our research shows 8 out of 10 U.S teens surveyed who use Instagram say it made them feel better about themselves or had no effect on how they feel about themselves."

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