Child Advocacy Organizations Pledge Support for New California Bill That Would Hold Social Media Platforms Liable for Online Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Trafficking of Children

The new bill would address the soaring rates of child sexual exploitation and child sex trafficking online and force social media platforms to pay damages and civil penalties for each unlawful act

Common Sense Media
Friday, February 17, 2023

SACRAMENTO, Feb. 17, 2023—Today, a coalition of child advocacy organizations announced support for AB 1394, new legislation that would make it easier for families to hold social media companies liable when they knowingly, recklessly, or negligently facilitate, aid, or abet commercial sexual exploitation of children. The bill would also require social media platforms to render unviewable videos and images of sexually exploited children, upon their request, or face civil penalties if they do not.

The bill, introduced by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, takes aim at child sex trafficking in California, where three of the nation's 13 high-intensity child sex trafficking areas, as identified by the FBI, are located.

Social media companies are aware that sexual abuse, exploitation, and trafficking of children are originating on their platforms. According to research, since 2000, traffickers have recruited 55% of sex trafficking victims online, usually through social media platforms. Other data shows that 76% of transactions for human trafficking with underage girls start on the internet. Inadequate self-policing by social media platforms has helped to facilitate the dramatic increase in online sexual exploitation.

The child advocacy coalition announcing support on the bill's day of introduction includes Common Sense Media, Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law, #HalfTheStory, and the American Association of University Women California.

"Social media companies have been ignoring child exploitation taking place on their platforms for far too long," said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media. "We must keep our kids safe at all costs, and this bill will now make it possible for social media companies to finally be held accountable for the horrifying practices of online child sex trafficking. There is no place in society, whether online or offline, for sexual or nude depictions of children to exist for public viewing, and California is taking the lead to ensure that such criminal acts will be punishable to the fullest extent of the law."

"As Leah Plunkett, an assistant dean at Harvard Law School and faculty associate at Harvard's Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, observed about parts of TikTok, it's 'the digital equivalent of going down the street to a strip club filled with 15-year-olds.' It isn't just TikTok," said Ed Howard, senior counsel at the Children's Advocacy Institute. "All social media companies need to do far more in preventing their child-enticing platforms from being places where children are sexually exploited and lured into being sexually trafficked, and far more to render invisible the related photos and videos that haunt survivors for the rest of their lives."

"Have you ever asked your child if they have been solicited for nude photos? Every minor with a social media account is at risk for social trafficking. What begins as an unsolicited message can end a life," said Larissa May, founder of #HalfTheStory. "Social media preys on the vulnerability of young women, and sex traffickers are capitalizing on it. They prey on the weak, the lonely, and the unstable. In a world where the average American teen spends 7.5 hours a day on their device, the least we can do is protect them from sexual exploitation."

"The American Association of University Women of California advocates for equity for women and girls. Those caught in the web of human trafficking are harmed not only physically and mentally, but their opportunities for a secure future languish," said Kathi Harper, public policy chair of AAUW CA. "These dangerous journeys into human trafficking often begin on social media platforms; companies that knowingly permit this content and fail to act are complicit in the crime, the trauma, and the deaths of trafficking victims, and should be held accountable."


Media Contacts
Lorena Taboas
[email protected]
(786) 521-4215

Lisa Cohen
[email protected]
(310) 395-2544

Ed Howard
[email protected]
(916) 844-5646