School district sues social apps for exploiting ‘vulnerable youth brains’

School district sues social apps for exploiting ‘vulnerable youth brains’

School district sues social apps for exploiting ‘vulnerable youth brains’

  • A Seattle school district battles the negative impact of social media on youth.
  • The district says apps like TikTok and Instagram “take advantage of the vulnerable brains of youth.”
  • The move comes a year after a whistleblower accused Facebook of downplaying the harm it was doing to teens.

A Seattle school district has filed a lawsuit against social media companies to combat student mental health issues, the Associated Press reports.

Seattle Public Schools is prosecuting the companies that spawned several popular apps – including TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat – claiming that students are suffering mental health crises as a result of their use, according to the AP.

“The defendants successfully tapped into the vulnerable brains of youth, drawing tens of millions of students across the country into a positive feedback loop about the overuse and abuse of the defendants’ social media platforms,” ​​the complaint reads. It goes on to say that in-app content is “too often harmful and exploitative”.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, comes more than a year after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen accused the company of knowingly harming teens but instead chose to prioritize its profits. Haugen blames Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg for refusing to come up with solutions – such as changing the algorithm – to address the divisiveness and harm done to users.

SPS says in the lawsuit that students in the district reported an average 30% increase in feeling “sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row” over a 10-year period from 2009 to 2019. Social media use may be linked to depression, lowered self-esteem and feelings of loneliness in teens and gave rise to the phenomenon of cyberbullying, Insider previously reported.

The complaint seeks to circumvent Section 230, a controversial internet law that prevents tech companies from being held accountable for words users may post on their platforms. The law protects Good Samaritan service providers as long as they make “good faith” efforts to moderate content and consistently make efforts to remove content that is not federally protected, such as copyright violations or SESTA and FOSTA violations.

“The plaintiff does not claim that the defendants are responsible for what third parties said on the defendants’ platforms, but rather for the defendants’ own conduct,” the lawsuit said, according to an AP report. “The defendants strongly endorse and promote content that is harmful to youth, such as pro-anorexia and content related to eating disorders.”

By focusing on the companies’ conduct rather than their user-generated content, the lawsuit, which the AP described as “cutting edge,” appears to maneuver around Section 230 legal protections.

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

“While King County Council has recently committed additional funding to school services, taxpayers should not bear the brunt of the mental health crisis caused by social media companies, as explained in the complaint,” the school district said in a press release. “This lawsuit seeks to hold these companies accountable for their actions and put youth mental health trends back on track.”

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

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