To hold the digital companies behind TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat responsible for the teenage mental health crisis, a public school district in Seattle has launched a creative lawsuit.

The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court on Friday by Seattle Public Schools. The social media giants are accused of making a public nuisance by marketing to children, according to the 91-page complaint.

It accuses them of escalating mental health and behavioral issues like anxiety, depression, disordered eating, and cyberbullying; making it more challenging to educate students; and pressuring schools to take actions like hiring more mental health specialists, creating lesson plans about social media’s effects, and giving teachers more training.

Tens of millions of pupils across were drawn into positive feedback loops of excessive usage and misuse of the defendants’ social media platforms, the complaint claimed. “Defendants have successfully exploited the susceptible brains of youngsters,” it stated. Worse, the defendants frequently curate and direct harmful and exploitative information toward young people.

The lawsuit contends that even though federal law, specifically Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, helps shield online businesses from liability resulting from content that third parties publish on their platforms, that provision does not shield the tech giants’ actions in this case.

The complaint claimed that defendants should be held accountable for their own actions rather than for what others may have said on their platforms. “Defendants affirmatively promote and suggest harmful materials to young people, such as material that supports anorexia and eating disorders.”

Google and Snap said in emails sent out on Sunday that they had made efforts to safeguard young users of their platforms.

For people who could be experiencing a mental health or emotional crisis, Snap developed an on-app assistance system called Here For You in 2020. It also has enabled settings that allow parents to see who their children contact on Snapchat, but not the substance of those messages. Additionally, it now includes more information on the new 988 crisis and suicide phone line in the United States.

The firm promised in a written statement that it would “continue striving to ensure our platform is safe and to give Snapchatters coping with mental health concerns resources to help them deal with the challenges affecting young people today.”

Google, which owns YouTube, has also offered parents the option to create reminders, impose screen time restrictions, and ban particular sorts of information from appearing on their children’s devices, according to José Castaeda, a Google representative.

Castaeda stated, “We have substantially invested in ensuring that children enjoy a safe experience across all of our platforms and have established robust protections and specialized features to promote their well-being.

Requests for comments from Meta and TikTok were not immediately reacted to.

According to the lawsuit, the proportion of Seattle Public Schools students who reported feeling “so depressed or hopeless practically every day for two weeks or more in a row” that they stopped doing several common activities increased by an average of 30% from 2009 to 2019.

The school district is requesting that the court issue a cease-and-desist order, award damages, and make the firms pay for treatment and preventative programs for people who use social media in an unhealthy or excessive way.

It’s unclear if any other school districts have lodged a complaint similar to Seattle’s, despite the fact that hundreds of families are suing the businesses over alleged harms social media has caused to their children.

Internal research made public in 2021 by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen indicated that the business was aware of Instagram’s harmful effects on teenagers, including how it harmed their body image and exacerbated eating disorders and suicidal thoughts. According to her, the platform put profits ahead of user safety and withheld its own research from investors and the general public.


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