Seattle schools are suing tech giants for social media harm

SEATTLE – The Seattle Public School District has filed a novel lawsuit against the tech giants behind TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat to hold them accountable for the youth mental health crisis.

Seattle Public Schools filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Friday. The 91-page complaint says the social media companies have created a public nuisance by targeting their products at children.

It blames them for deteriorating mental health and behavioral disorders, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders and cyberbullying; impeding the education of students; and forcing schools to take actions such as hiring additional mental health professionals, developing lesson plans on the impact of social media, and providing additional training for teachers.

“The defendants successfully preyed on the vulnerable brains of youth, trapping tens of millions of students across the country in positive feedback loops of overuse and abuse of the defendants’ social media platforms,” ​​the complaint reads. “Worse, the content that defendants curate and target youth is all too often harmful and exploitative…”

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

While the federal statute – Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – helps protect online businesses from liability arising from what third-party users post on their platforms, the lawsuit argues that the regulation does not address the tech giants’ conduct in this case protects.

“Plaintiff does not allege that Defendants are liable for what third parties have said on Defendants’ platforms, but rather for Defendants’ own conduct,” the lawsuit reads. “The defendants expressly recommend and promote harmful content for young people, such as B. Pro-anorexia and eating disorder content.”

The lawsuit states that Seattle Public Schools’ student enrollment increased an average of 30% from 2009 to 2019 and reported that they felt “so sad or hopeless nearly every day for two or more weeks” that they stopped doing typical activities.

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

While hundreds of families are filing lawsuits against the companies over harm their children allegedly suffered from social media, it’s not clear if other school districts have filed a complaint like Seattle’s.

Internal studies uncovered by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen in 2021 revealed that the company knew Instagram negatively impacted teens by damaging their body image and worsening eating disorders and suicidal thoughts. She claimed that the platform prioritizes profits over security and hides its own research from investors and the public.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. Seattle schools are suing tech giants for social media harm

Sarah Y. Kim

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