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"I see the addiction": First Partner and youth advocates demand big tech companies protect youth from harm on social media

What is social media's impact on teens?
What is social media's impact on teens? 02:26

SACRAMENTO — First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom unveiled a new report with the California Partners Project on Wednesday showing the consequences social media is having on the youth.

She gathered on the steps of the State Capitol with Assemblymember Buffy Wicks and youth speakers from the Healthy Online Platforms for Everyone (HOPE) coalition to address the change they want to see. 

"It is kind of like a fake reality portrayed on social media that causes people to feel worse about themselves," said high school senior Aayush Verma with the HOPE Youth Coalition. 

The report, titled "Shared Experiences: How Social Media Affects the Well-Being and Empowerment of Girls and Young Women," dives into the latest data with researchers from UCLA and includes recommendations to minimize the negative impact of social media and channel its use for potential good. 

Young people who spoke out on Wednesday said enjoyment and peace have turned to stress and harm because of social media. 

"I have seen my little brother watch a horror video about SpongeBob when he was only six years old at the time," said Nancy Aguilar, 20, with the HOPE Youth Coalition. 

Aguilar said she swapped the videos for arts and crafts and saw a noticeable change for her brother. 

"He used to be like throwing tantrums and being aggressive," said Aguilar. "Now he is much more normal." 

First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom said big tech companies are to blame. 

"Big tech and big money is prioritizing their own pocketbooks at the expense of our children's mental health and well-being," said the First Partner. "I see the addiction."

A recent CDC report shows 30% of U.S. teen girls seriously considered taking their own lives - an increase of 60% from a decade ago. 

The solution: kids spending more time outdoors and a $4.7 billion investment in youth mental health resources. 

"How to deal with big emotions, coping skills," said Siebel Newsom. "We've championed the parks passes and equitable access to California State Parks."

Two Elk Grove elementary school reporters interviewed the First Partner after the press conference to ask her how she will help create this change.

Siebel Newsom said it will take more of this type of engagement with the youth to better understand them and give them a voice.

"Young people, in particular, know it's harming them, and they want to see real change," said Siebel Newsom. 

Some of these changes they want to see are better online safeguards, expanded media literacy programs and an investment in diverse young women as tech leaders and creators.

"We need everybody's help to battle the large forces of the multi-billion dollar advertisement companies," Verma said. 

Many young people who spoke raised concerns about the advertisements they see on social media like alcohol and substance use. 

"A lot of people under 21 are not even legal to have it," said Verma. "They get influenced by those advertisements."

Others like Aguilar call themselves "observers" on social media. She said she has the accounts, but rarely posts. 

"I do not really feel like posting anything on my Instagram," said Aguilar. "It is all blank, I kind of erase all traces, I do not want my information shown." 

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the California Age Appropriate Design Code (AB 2273, Wicks) last year. 

This is set to be implemented in July 2024 to hold tech companies accountable for protecting youth, but it is currently tied up in a lawsuit. 

The law would require online services to design their platforms with the well-being of children in mind. This will require businesses to default privacy settings for underage users to the most private option and protect children's personal information from being collected or shared. 

"Right now, we are not keeping our communities safe," said Assemblymember Wicks. "We are not keeping our children safe from harm on social media." 

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