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Netchoice sues over California law to protect young social media users

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The tech industry group NetChoice on Wednesday sued to block a landmark California law that requires tech companies to adopt new policies to protect children and their privacy online, in the latest legal salvo over the future of social media regulation.

NetChoice argues in its lawsuit that the law violates the First Amendment, arguing that tech companies have the right under the Constitution to make “editorial decisions” about what content they publish or remove. The industry group said that the law, which is set to go into effect in 2024, would force companies to “serve as roving censors of speech on the Internet” and result in “over-moderation” of content online.

California’s law is the latest battleground in the state’s efforts to control the actions of tech companies after years of inaction in Washington. Wednesday’s lawsuit highlights how the industry is equally hostile to legislation from Democrats as it is from Republicans, even though the challenged laws address different tech concerns.

NetChoice is also among the plaintiffs challenging laws passed by Republican-led legislatures in Texas and Florida that seek to set rules for how tech companies treat social media posts. Those laws are now on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after conflicting rulings from lower courts — with much of the Florida law struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit while the Texas law was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

NetChoice made similar First Amendment arguments in its challenges to the Florida and Texas laws, which are intended to address long-running concerns that tech companies censor conservative views.

California lawmakers pass landmark children’s online safety bill

California state lawmakers passed the child safety legislation, known as the California Age-Appropriate Design Code, in August. It requires platforms to check whether new products may pose harm to children before rolling them out, and to offer privacy protections to younger users by default.

The office of California attorney general Rob Bonta (D) signaled in a statement that the state would fight the lawsuit.

“As children spend more of their time online, the California Age-Appropriate Design Code provides critical new protections over the collection and use of their data and works to address some of the real and demonstrated harms associated with social media and other online products and services,” said a statement from his office. “We are reviewing the complaint and look forward to defending this important children’s safety law in court.”

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