Seattle: public schools sue Google, Meta, Snapchat and TikTok for causing 'mental harm' to children

The school district alleged that social media content causes anxiety, depression, eating disorders in students and results in cyberbullying.

Seattle Public Schools filed a lawsuit against the tech giants that own TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat. The district alleges that students are being recommended harmful online content, which causes mental health crises and behavioral disorders. It also alleges that social media companies not only allow this to happen, but encourage it.

The 91-page lawsuit filed in federal court claims that these platforms have created a public nuisance by targeting their product advertisements at young people and children, causing them anxiety, depression, eating disorders in students and results in cyberbullying.

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"Unfiltered content and addictive properties"

It further argues that between 2009 and 2019, there was a 30% increase in the number of students who claimed to have felt "so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks" to the point of stopping their usual activities. Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Brent Jones released a statement saying:

Our students, and young people around the world, face unprecedented learning and life challenges that are amplified by the negative impacts of increased screen time, unfiltered content and the potentially addictive properties of social media.

Mental health impairment

The district also blames social media for complicating the tasks of educating students and forcing schools to take measures such as hire more mental health professionals, develop curricula on the effects of social media, and provide additional training to teaching staff:

Defendants have successfully exploited the vulnerable brains of youth, hooking tens of millions of students across the country into positive feedback loops through the overuse and abuse of Defendants' social media platforms (...) Worse, Defendants' content created and targeted to youth often proves harmful and exploitative.

The federal Communications Decency Act shields Internet companies from liability for what third parties post on their platforms. However, the lawsuit argues that the measure does not protect the companies' behavior in this case:

Plaintiff does not argue that defendants are responsible for what third parties have said on defendants' platforms, but defendants' own conduct (...) Defendants affirmatively recommend and promote harmful content to young people, such as content in favor of anorexia and eating disorders.

The school district is asking the court to order the companies to stop creating a public nuisance, award compensation, and pay for preventive education and treatment for excessive and problematic social media use.