Advertisement

US schools sue social media giants over mental health harm

A US public school district has filed a lawsuit against the tech giants behind TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat, seeking to hold them accountable for the mental health crisis among youth.

Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Seattle Public Schools filed a 91 page complaint in the US District Court on Friday.

It blames them for worsening mental health and behavioural disorders including anxiety, depression, disordered eating and cyberbullying; making it more difficult to educate students; and forcing schools to take steps such as hiring additional mental health professionals, developing lesson plans about the effects of social media, and providing additional training to 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 ”

Meta, Google, Snap and TikTok did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday.

While federal law helps protect online companies from liability arising from what third-party users post on their platforms, the lawsuit argues that provision does not protect the tech giants’ 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.”

The lawsuit says that from 2009 to 2019, there was on average a 30 per cent increase 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 doing some typical activities.

The school district is asking the court to order the companies to stop creating the public nuisance, to award damages, and to pay for prevention education and treatment for excessive and problematic use of social media.

Internal studies revealed by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen in 2021 showed that the company knew that Instagram negatively affected teenagers by harming their body image and making eating disorders and thoughts of suicide worse. She alleged that the platform prioritised profits over safety and hid its own research from investors and the public.

-AAP

Local News Matters
Advertisement
Copyright © 2024 InDaily.
All rights reserved.