New York City Sues Social Media Companies for Harming Children

Eric Adams and New York City file lawsuit against social media companies for harming children

New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced that the city government filed a lawsuit against five social media platforms, including TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube.

The lawsuit alleges that social media companies like TikTok and Meta, Facebook and Instagram’s owner, are responsible for “fueling the nationwide youth mental health crisis.” New York City is joining “hundreds of school districts from across the country” in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs, including Adams, New York City’s Corporation Counsel Sylvia O. Hinds Radix, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan, NYC Health and Hospitals President Dr. Michell Katz, and the city’s Department of Education Chancellor David C. Banks, hope to “force tech giants to change their behavior and to recover the costs of addressing the public health threat” that the social media companies are allegedly responsible for.

The lawsuit follows up on New York City saying last month that social media use is like smoking, and therefore a public health hazard. It also builds on Dr. Vasan’s advisory last year that outlined New York City’s commitment to holding companies responsible for the impact of their products and services on the city’s children.

Vasan’s release last year also outlined ways parents and caregivers could help their children face less harm from social media use and offered guidelines for educators to mitigate increasing hazards.

“Over the past decade, we have seen just how addictive and overwhelming the online world can be, exposing our children to a non-stop stream of harmful content and fueling our national youth mental health crisis,” explains Mayor Adams.

“Our city is built on innovation and technology, but many social media platforms end up endangering our children’s mental health, promoting addiction, and encouraging unsafe behavior. Today, we’re taking bold action on behalf of millions of New Yorkers to hold these companies accountable for their role in this crisis, and we’re building on our work to address this public health hazard. This lawsuit and action plan are part of a larger reckoning that will shape the lives of our young people, our city, and our society for years to come.”

“Social media companies like TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube, and Meta are fueling a national youth mental health crisis,” adds Corporation Counsel Hinds-Radix. “These companies have chosen profit over the well-being of children by intentionally designing their platforms with manipulative and addictive features and using harmful algorithms targeted to young people. Social media companies should be held accountable for this misconduct and for the harms they cause to our children, schools, and entire communities.”

Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Anne Williams-Isom, noted that while social media has some benefits, like offering powerful ways to connect, they also enable unhealthy behavior.

“We are also taking legal and regulatory action to hold social media companies accountable for their actions and urging them to help build healthier environments for their users, particularly for children and young people. This administration is committed to protecting and promoting the health and well-being of every child and young person in every space whether in everyday life or online,” says Williams-Isom.

“Social media is a toxin in our digital environment, like lead, air pollution, and nicotine are in our physical one,” Dr. Vasan says.

As for specific offenses that social media companies have allegedly committed, the lawsuit outlines that using algorithms to create engagement encourages compulsive and excessive use of social media platforms. The lawsuit also claims that features such as “likes” are akin to gambling, creating an anticipation and craving for positive feedback. The lawsuit also says that social media apps manipulate users through reciprocity, meaning that if someone likes your content, you feel compelled to like theirs, encouraging continued use of apps.

Further, the complaint says that social media companies are responsible, at least in part, for fueling a mental health crisis among America’s youth through intentional conduct and negligence.

The rate of hopelessness among New York City high schoolers has increased dramatically in recent years, as has social media use. Of course, correlation is not causation, and the burden of proof when alleging intentional misconduct and negligence is significant.

“Our children are facing a mental health crisis fueled by social media companies’ disregard for their safety and well-being,” says New York Attorney General Letitia James.

“We owe it to our kids to tackle the damaging effects of social media, and I applaud Mayor Adams for taking this important action today to hold these companies accountable. This lawsuit builds on the important work we’ve done to advance legislation to rein in the most addictive and dangerous features on social media and the legal action we’ve taken to stop them. It is unacceptable that big tech companies can profit off the harm they are doing to young people, and I want to thank Mayor Adams for joining our effort to protect the next generation of New Yorkers.”

Image credits: Header photo created using images licensed via Depositphotos.