The public school district of Seattle has filed a lawsuit in the United States against many major social media corporations, accusing them of damaging the mental health of young people across the nation.
According to The Guardian, a lawsuit filed on Friday with a US district court accused the social media firms behind TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube of causing a “mental health crisis among American adolescents.”
“The rise of the defendants is a result of the decisions they made to build and operate their platforms in a manner that exploits the psychology and neurophysiology of their users so that they spend more and more time on the platforms.” The 91-page lawsuit stated that these approaches are both highly effective and detrimental to the youth audience.
“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 added, citing harmful content such as extreme diet plans and self-harm encouragements. The case continued by attributing the increase in anxiety, sadness, thoughts of self-harm, and suicidal ideation among adolescents to the alleged misbehavior of the defendant firms.
From 2009 to 2019, the average number of Seattle public school students who reported feeling “so unhappy or despairing practically every day for two weeks or more in a succession that [they] stopped completing certain normal activities” increased by 30%, according to the lawsuit.
As students experience various mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, their academic performance declines, according to the lawsuit, making them less likely to attend school and more likely to engage in substance abuse and “act out,” thereby impeding “the ability of Seattle public schools to fulfill their educational mission.”
Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the federal legislation helps offer immunity for online platforms with regard to the content posted by third party users. The lawsuit asserts, however, that the provision does not insulate social media corporations and that they are liable for suggesting, disseminating, and promoting information and marketing their social media platforms “in a manner that causes harm.”
In a statement to Axios, Google spokesperson José Castaeda said that Google has “invested heavily in creating safe experiences for children across our platforms and have introduced strong protections and dedicated features to prioritize their well-being,” citing Family Link, a parental control feature that, among other capabilities, allows parents to set screen time and restrict content.
Similarly, Snapchat told Reuters that it is working “closely with numerous mental health groups to provide in-app tools and resources for users” and that the community’s well-being is its top priority.
In October 2021, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pushed back against claims made by politicians that Facebook was profiting at the expense of the mental health of young people. Zuckerberg stated on Facebook, which is owned by Meta, that “the claim that we purposefully push stuff that makes people upset for profit is ludicrous.”
“We gain money from advertisements, and advertisers tell us repeatedly that they do not want their ads next to dangerous or angry content. “And I’m not aware of any technology business whose mission is to create goods that make people angry or depressed,” he continued.
The Guardian has requested comments from Meta and TikTok. According to the lawsuit, the school district is seeking compensation for the “public nuisance” that it wants the court to force the firms to stop causing. Additionally, the district seeks funding for preventative education and therapy for excessive and problematic social media usage.