Seattle schools sue tech giants over social media harm

Seattle’s public schools filed a unique lawsuit against tech giants TikTok and Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and YouTube, seeking to hold them responsible for the youth mental health crisis.

The lawsuit was filed Friday by Seattle Public Schools in U.S. District Court. The 91-page complaint claims that social media companies created a public nuisance targeting children with their products.

They are blamed for making it harder to educate students and making it more difficult to manage mental health. Schools have been forced to hire additional mental health professionals, develop lesson plans on the effects of social networking, and provide additional training to teachers.

The complaint stated that defendants had “successfully exploited youth’s vulnerable brains, hooking tens to millions of students across the nation into positive feedback loops through excessive use and abuse on Defendants social media platforms.” Worse, the harmful and exploitive ….” content that Defendants curate for youth is too often.

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Although federal law (section 230 of Communications Decency Act) helps online companies avoid liability for third-party user posts on their platforms, the lawsuit argues this provision doesn’t protect the behavior of tech giants in this case.

The lawsuit stated that the plaintiff is not claiming that defendants are responsible for third-party statements made on platforms of Defendants, but rather for their own conduct. “Defendants promote and affirmatively recommend harmful content to youth such as pro-anorexia or eating disorder content.”

Snap and Google sent out statements via email Sunday claiming that they have worked together to protect the young users of their platforms.

Snap introduced Here For You, an in-app support service in 2020 to assist those in mental health and emotional crises. It also allows parents to see who their children are contacting on Snapchat. However, it does not reveal the content of these messages. The app has also recently added content about the 988 suicide crisis and crisis phone system in America.

The company stated in a written statement that it will continue to work to ensure the platform is safe. It also plans to provide resources for Snapchatters with mental health issues to help them cope with today’s challenges.

Jose Castaneda, spokesperson for Google, stated that Google, which is the owner of YouTube, has also allowed parents to set reminders and limit screen time, as well as block certain content from their children’s devices.

Castaneda stated that “we have made a lot of investments in creating safe environments for children on our platforms” and has introduced dedicated protections and features to ensure their safety.

Meta and TikTok didn’t immediately respond to our requests for comment.

According to the lawsuit, there was an average 30% increase in students from Seattle Public Schools who felt “so sad and hopeless almost every single day for two weeks or longer” that they had to stop participating in normal activities.

The school district wants the court to order that the companies stop creating a public nuisance and to award damages. They also want to pay for education and treatment of excessive and problematic social media use.

Although hundreds of families are filing lawsuits against companies for the harms that they claim their children suffered through social media, it is not clear whether any other school districts have filed complaints like Seattle’s.

Frances Haugen, a Facebook whistleblower, revealed that Instagram knew that Instagram had a negative effect on teenagers. She found that Instagram was causing them to have poor body images and worsening thoughts about suicide and eating disorders. She claimed that the platform prioritised safety over safety and concealed its own research from investors as well as the public.