A school district in Maryland is Lawsuit against the parent companies of Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube (opens in a new tab)for “deliberately cultivate”.[ing]”Harmful product traits that have caused “a mental health crisis among America’s youth.” These products, the lawsuit alleges, create crises that result in young people skipping school, abusing alcohol or drugs, and overall behaving in ways that damage Howard County’s ability to fulfill its educational mission fulfill.”
The county says the strain has become so unbearable that it has reached a “breaking point.”
The lawsuit alleges that children in particular are being targeted by tech giants for corporate profits. Meta, ByteDance, Google, Snap and others have turned their attention to creating “self-destructive feedback loops” that exploit young people’s developing brains to increase engagement with their products. While these products are marketed as ‘social’, they actively promote forms of ‘disconnection’. [and] “Dissociation,” which causes children to forego “the intimacy of teenage friendships.”
Instagram designed its app to be addictive. Now it wants to remind you to take a break.
The lawsuit then seeks to link teens’ use of social media to a 57 percent increase in teen suicide rates and a 117 percent increase in emergency room visits for anxiety disorders (the source of these specific statistics isn’t given, but there was one general increase in suicides among young people(opens in a new tab) in recent years). In 2019, the lawsuit adds: “One in five high school girls had a suicide plan(opens in a new tab)“Presumably due to the mental health issues exacerbated by social media.
The lawsuit seeks to hold tech companies accountable and “institute comprehensive, long-term planning and funding to drive sustainable reductions in their students’ mental health crises” caused by social media.
Howard County isn’t alone in working to limit the reach of tall teachers in the classroom and beyond. The edge(opens in a new tab) Notes that two other school districts in Maryland and districts in at least seven other states have filed similar lawsuits alleging the harms of young people’s use of social media. In October 2022, a British court found Instagram and Pinterest liable for the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell, who committed suicide after viewing content related to suicide, self-harm and depression on her websites.
A Google spokesperson told The Verge that the company “builds age-appropriate experiences for kids and families on YouTube, and provides robust controls for parents,” and a Snap spokesperson said it was “investigating.”[s] all content before it can reach a large audience, which helps protect against advertising and detection of potentially harmful material.” Antigone Davis, Meta’s head of security, told The Verge that the company “has invested in technology that protects content related to Find and remove suicide, self-harm, or eating disorders before anyone reports them to us.”