The Seattle public school district has filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court against the tech companies behind TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat, seeking to hold them responsible for the mental health damage they have inflicted on young people.
The 91-page lawsuit claims that social media companies have created a public hazard by targeting children with their products and contributing to the worsening of mental health and behavioral disorders, including anxiety, depression, disordered eating, and cyberbullying.
The suit also alleges that said companies have made it more difficult to educate students and have forced schools to hire additional mental health professionals, create lesson plans about the effects of social media, and provide additional training to teachers.
The complaint asserts that the companies have “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,” and that the content directed toward young people is often “harmful and exploitative.”
“Plaintiff is not alleging Defendants are liable for what third-parties have said on Defendants’ platforms but, rather, for Defendants’ own conduct,” the lawsuit reads. “Defendants affirmatively recommend and promote harmful content to youth, such as pro-anorexia and eating disorder content.”
In emailed statements to the Associated Press on Sunday, Google and Snap maintained they were working hard to protect young people from harm. “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.
Meanwhile, José Castañeda, a spokesperson for YouTube’s parent company Google, insisted the company had “invested heavily in creating safe experiences for children across our platforms and have introduced strong protections and dedicated features to prioritize their well-being.”
According to the lawsuit, from 2009 to 2019, there was an average increase of 30% in the number of Seattle Public Schools students who reported feeling “so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row” that they stopped participating in some of their usual activities.
Although thousands of plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against social media companies for the harm they inflict on children, this is believed to be the first filed directly by a public school district. As such, the school district has requested that the court order the companies to stop causing the alleged public nuisance, award damages, and provide funding for prevention education and treatment for excessive and problematic use of social media.
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