A school district sues social media apps for exploiting the ‘vulnerable minds of youth’

  • A Seattle school district is suing to fight social media’s negative impact on youth.
  • The district says apps like TikTok and Instagram have “exploited the vulnerable minds of young people”.
  • The move comes a year after a whistleblower accused Facebook of ignoring the harm to teenagers.

A Seattle school district filed a lawsuit against social media companies in an effort to combat mental health issues, the Associated Press reported.

Seattle Public Schools comes after the companies behind several popular apps — including TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat — say students are suffering mental health crises as a result of their use, according to the AP.

“The defendant has successfully exploited the vulnerable minds of the youth, and connected tens of millions of students across the country into positive feedback loops with excessive use and abuse of the defendant’s social media platforms,” ​​the complaint states, according to AP. It goes on to say that content on the apps is “too often harmful and exploitative.”

The case, filed Friday in US District Court, comes more than a year after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen accused the company of deliberately harming teenagers but choosing to prioritize profits instead. Haugen blames Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg for refusing to create solutions — such as changing the algorithm — to address the divisiveness and harm inflicted on users.

SPS says in the lawsuit that students in the district have reported an average increase of 30% in feeling “so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row” between the 10-year period 2009 and 2019. Social media use can be linked to depression, low self-esteem and feelings of loneliness in teenagers and has given rise to the phenomenon of cyberbullying, Insider previously reported.

The lawsuit aims to get around Section 230, a controversial internet law that prevents tech companies from being held liable for words that users put on their platforms. The Act offers Good Samaritan protections for service providers, as long as they make a “good faith” effort to moderate content and consistently attempt to remove federally unprotected content that violates copyright laws or SESTA and FOSTA regulations.

“The plaintiff does not allege that the defendants are responsible for what third parties have said on the defendants’ platforms, but rather for the defendants’ own conduct,” the lawsuit states, according to the AP’s report. “The defendant recommends and promotes harmful content to youth, such as pro-anorexia and eating disorders.”

By focusing on the conduct of the companies rather than the content created by their users, the lawsuit, which the AP described as “novel,” appears to maneuver around Section 230’s legal protections.

It’s unclear if any other US school districts have taken similar measures, but hundreds of families have sought legal action against social media companies over the mental health of young users, CBS News reported.

“While the King County Council recently allocated additional resources to school-based services, taxpayers should not bear the burden of the mental health crisis social media has created, as explained in the complaint,” the school district said in a press release. “This lawsuit aims to hold these companies accountable for their actions and put the development of youth mental health back on track.”

Seattle Public Schools, Meta, Snapchat, TikTok and Google did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment. Keller Rohrback declined to provide further comment.

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