- A Seattle school district is suing to combat the negative impact of social media on young people.
- The district says apps like TikTok and Instagram have “exploited young people’s vulnerable brains”.
- The move comes a year after a whistleblower accused Facebook of ignoring its harm to teens.
A Seattle school district has filed a lawsuit against social media companies in an effort to address student mental health issues, The Associated Press reported.
Seattle Public Schools comes after the companies that spawned several popular apps — including TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat — claiming students are suffering mental health crises as a result of their use, according to the AP.
“Defendants have successfully tapped into the vulnerable brains of young people, hooking tens of millions of students across the country into positive feedback loops of overuse and abuse of Defendants’ social media platforms,” the statement said. complaint, according to the AP. He goes on to say that app content is “too often harmful and exploitative”.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court on Friday, comes more than a year after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen accused the company of knowingly harming teenagers, but to have chosen to focus on its profits instead. Haugen blames Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg for refusing to create solutions — such as altering the algorithm — to address the division and harm to its users.
SPS says in the lawsuit that students in the district reported an average 30% increase in feeling “so sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row” between 2009 and 2019. Social media use may be linked to depression, lowered self-esteem and feelings of loneliness in teens and gave rise to the phenomenon of cyberbullying, Insider previously reported.
The suit seeks to circumvent Section 230, a controversial internet law that prevents tech companies from being held liable for comments users may put on their platforms. The law provides good Samaritan protections for service providers, as long as they make a “good faith” effort to moderate content and consistently strive to remove non-federally protected content, such as violations of laws on copyright or SESTA and FOSTA regulations.
“Plaintiff does not allege that Defendants are responsible for what third parties said on Defendants’ platforms, but rather for Defendants’ own conduct,” the lawsuit said, according to the AP report. “Defendants affirmatively recommend and promote content harmful to young people, such as pro-anorexia and eating disorder content.”
By focusing on the companies’ conduct rather than their users’ content, the lawsuit, which the AP called a “novel”, appears to circumvent the legal protections of Section 230.
It’s unclear if another US school district has taken similar action, but hundreds of families have filed lawsuits against social media companies over the mental health of young users, CBS News reported.
“While King County Council has recently allocated additional resources to school services, taxpayers should not bear the burden of the mental health crisis that social media companies have created, as explained in the complaint,” said the school district in a press release. “This lawsuit aims to hold these companies accountable for their actions and put youth mental health trends back on track.”
Seattle Public Schools, Meta, Snapchat, TikTok and Google did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment. Keller Rohrback declined to provide further comment.