Seattle schools sue social media giants for promoting teen mental health crisis
Seattle’s public school district has filed a lawsuit against social media giants TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat for contributing to the mental health crisis amongst school-age children.
Seattle Public Schools filed a 91-page complaint stating that the big tech companies have created a public nuisance by promoting their products to children.
The lawsuit accuses the social media sites of worsening students’ mental health and behavioural disorders including anxiety, depression, disordered eating and cyberbullying.
According to the schools, the mental effects social media has on their students makes it more difficult to teach pupils and forces schools to take action such as hiring additional mental health professionals, developing lesson plans about the effects of social media, and providing more training for teachers.
“Defendants have successfully exploited the vulnerable brains of youth, hooking tens of millions of students across the country into positive feedback loops of excessive use and abuse of Defendants’ social media platforms,” the complaint said. “Worse, the content Defendants curate and direct to youth is too often harmful and exploitive.”
While US federal law (Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act) protects online companies from liability arising from what third-party users post on their platforms, the lawsuit states that the provision does not protect the social media giant’s behaviour in this case.
“Plaintiff is not alleging Defendants are liable for what third-parties have said on Defendants’ platforms but, rather, for Defendants’ own conduct,” the lawsuit said.
“Defendants affirmatively recommend and promote harmful content to youth, such as pro-anorexia and eating disorder content.”
In statements responding to the lawsuit, Google, Snap and Sunday said they have worked to protect young people who use their platforms.
In 2020, Snap launched an in-app support system called “Here For You” which aims to help users struggling with mental health in finding expert resources and has also enabled settings that allow parents to see whom their children are messaging on Snapchat (minus the content of the messages).
“We will continue working to make sure our platform is safe and to give Snapchatters dealing with mental health issues resources to help them deal with the challenges facing young people today,” Snap said in a written statement.
Google, which owns YouTube, also gave parents the ability to set reminders, limit screen time and block certain times of content on their children’s devices.
“We have invested heavily in creating safe experiences for children across our platforms and have introduced strong protections and dedicated features to prioritise their well-being,” Google said.
Meta, who owns Instagram and Facebook, has not directly responded but has released a written blog post on its Summit on Youth Safety and Well-Being in which it discusses tools it has developed to support teens and families on its apps.
TikTok did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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