The public school district in Seattle has filed a lawsuit against the companies behind TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat, accusing them of harming young people’s mental health.
Seattle Public Schools filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Friday. It alleges that these social media companies have created a public nuisance by targeting their products to children.
Seattle Public Schools claim the tech giants are responsible for creating a “mental health crisis among America’s youth” and have directly affected the schools’ ability to carry out their educational mission.
Exploiting Vulnerable Youth
According to AP News, the lawsuit blames the social media companies for worsening mental health and behavioral disorders including anxiety, depression, disordered eating and cyberbullying.
This has made it more difficult to educate students.
The complaint also alleges that schools have been forced 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 says.
“Worse, the content Defendants curate and direct to youth is too often harmful and exploitive.”
Under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, federal law helps provide immunity for online platforms with respect to third-party users and what they choose to post as content.
However, the lawsuit argues that this provision does not protect the tech giants’ behavior 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 says.
“Defendants affirmatively recommend and promote harmful content to youth, such as pro-anorexia and eating disorder content.”
The lawsuit went on to attribute the companies’ alleged misconduct to the rising rates of anxiety, depression, thoughts of self-harm and suicide ideation experienced among young people.
According to the lawsuit, from 2009 to 2019, there was on average a 30 percent increase in the number of students at Seattle public schools who reported feeling “so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that [they] stopped doing some usual activities.”
Seattle Public Schools is seeking “the maximum statutory and civil penalties permitted by law,” making the case that the social media companies have violated Washington state’s public nuisance law.
Multiple families have pursued similar lawsuits against Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook — contending that its social media platforms deliberately adjust its algorithms to hook young people. However, Seattle Public Schools appears to be the first school district in the U.S. to file such a case against the companies.
Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.