Seattle Public Schools Sue Big Tech, Allege Social Media Harms Student Mental Health

Schools in Seattle are suing the big tech companies for recommending harmful content to children, allegedly fueling the mental health crisis.

Seattle Public Schools Sue Big Tech, Allege Social Media Harms Student Mental Health

(Photo: Aleksei, Adobe Stock)

Seattle, Washington — Seattle Public Schools is suing Meta (which owns Instagram and Facebook), TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube, claiming the social media platforms are harming the mental health of children by recommending harmful content to them.

The lawsuit, filed on Friday, accuses the companies of intentionally exploiting the psychology and neurophysiology of children to encourage them to spend an excessive amount of time on the social media sites, “creating a mental health crisis among America’s youth.” Seattle Public Schools argue that the more time children spend on a platform, the more money the platform makes.

The mental health and behavioral disorders allegedly exacerbated by the platforms include anxiety, depression, disordered eating, and cyberbullying. According to the lawsuit, “From 2009 to 2019, there was an on-average 30 percent increase in the number of students at Plaintiff’s 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.’”

The lawsuit also claims, “Youths are particularly susceptible to Defendants’ manipulative conduct because their brains are not fully developed, and they consequently lack the same emotional maturity, impulse control, and psychological resiliency as other more mature users.”

In response to growing child safety concerns, platforms have recently increased safety features for teens. In 2020, Snap launched “Here for You” to help users experiencing mental health or emotional crises find helpful resources, reports the Associated Press. Meta has also recently bolstered its safety features for teens using Facebook and Instagram.

“We don’t allow content that promotes suicide, self-harm or eating disorders, and of the content we remove or take action on, we identify over 99% of it before it’s reported to us,” Meta Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis told NPR in an email.

The school district is not suing the tech companies for what is being said by third parties on their platforms. Instead, Seattle Public Schools is suing the companies for “recommending and promoting harmful content to youth,” creating content that causes harm; “designing and marketing their social media platforms in a way that causes harm”; and for “distributing, delivering, and/or transmitting material that they know or have reason to know is harmful, unlawful, and/or tortious.”

The district is asking for damages to be awarded, for the platforms to pay for education and treatment for the excessive and inappropriate use of social media, and for the companies to stop creating a public nuisance.

President Joe Biden is also encouraging Congress to hold big tech accountable for harmful content shared on social media and increase children’s privacy protections, reports NPR.

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About the Author

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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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