A North Carolina education board recently joined around 200 school districts nationwide in filing a lawsuit against leading social media giants, accusing the companies of fueling a youth mental health crisis in the United States.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education is the latest to file a suit against Meta (owner of Facebook and Instagram) Google (owner of YouTube), ByteDance (owner of TikTok) and Snap Inc. (owner of Snapchat) due to concerns about students’ mental health.
As WCNC reported Monday, the board filed the lawsuit late last month and is represented by attorney Philip Federico. Federico said the goal of the litigation is to convince the companies to change how they operate their businesses, arguing that there is a “healthy” way to run their platforms that is not “addictive.”
The board filed the lawsuit as it struggles with providing mental health resources to students “amid rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation,” according to a statement from the Charlotte school board members.
“The Board’s decision to take legal action reflects our unwavering commitment to the welfare of our students and to ensure that social media corporations are held responsible for their contribution to the mental health challenges faced by CMS students,” the board’s chairperson, Elyse Dashew, said.
In a Tuesday statement to The Christian Post, a spokesperson for Meta acknowledged that teen mental health is a “complex issue,” calling for a greater appreciation of the daily struggles youth face. The spokesperson also noted that reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that several factors, including the aftermath of COVID-19, have impacted young people’s mental health.
“We want to work with schools and academic experts to better understand these issues, and how social media can provide teens with support when they need it, in a way that acknowledges the full picture,” the Meta spokesperson told CP.
A spokesperson for Snap also told CP in a Tuesday statement that the company designed its platform, Snapchat, differently from other social media platforms because it was thinking about the well-being of the communities using it.
“Our app opens directly to a camera rather than a feed of content that encourages passive scrolling and is primarily used to help real friends communicate,” the Snap spokesperson stated. “We aren’t an app that encourages perfection or popularity, and we vet all content before it can reach a large audience, which helps protect against the promotion and discovery of potentially harmful material.”
While the spokesperson noted that there is always room for improvement, the Snap representative said that the company is pleased with its role in “helping friends feel connected, informed, happy, and prepared as they face the many challenges of adolescence.”
In a statement to CP, a Google spokesperson told the outlet that protecting kids across platforms is the “core” of the company’s work.
“In collaboration with child development specialists, we have built age-appropriate experiences for kids and families on YouTube and provide parents with robust controls,” the spokesperson said. “The allegations in these complaints are simply not true.”
ByteDance did not immediately respond to The Christian Post’s request for comment.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education’s 200-page lawsuit cited reports that social media companies deliberately design their products to be addicting for students, according to WSOC-TV. The board also highlighted studies about social media algorithms and how they can potentially influence students’ perceptions of their appearances.
“This is a problem that has been evolving over the past decade,” Federico told Fox News. “Because if you speak with the mental health counselors in these schools, and you speak with psychiatrists and psychologists who treat adolescents and children, they will tell you that over the course of the past 10 years, there has been a steady increase in mental health problems — self-image problems, anxiety problems, even suicide and suicide ideation.”
“And you can see that line tracks very much with the increased use in social media by this same peer group,” he concluded.
Court documents show that at least four law firms are representing the board, and several of those firms are representing other districts in a multi-district lawsuit filed in March.
“This lawsuit follows on a growing body of scientific research, including Defendants’
own internal (previously concealed) studies, that draws a direct line between Defendants’
conscious, intentional design choices and the youth mental health crisis gripping our nation,” the lawsuit filed in March reads.
“Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube have rewired how our kids think, feel, and behave. Disconnected ‘Likes’ have replaced the intimacy of adolescent friendships. Mindless scrolling has displaced the creativity of play and sport. While presented as ‘social,’ Defendants’ products have in myriad ways promoted disconnection, disassociation, and a legion of resulting mental and physical harms.”
As nearly 200 school districts have joined the lawsuit, The Wall Street Journal reported in June that the companies have filed a motion to dismiss the case under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields social media companies from liability for posts made by users.
In March 2022, Nature Communications journal published a Cambridge University study that noted a link between negative life satisfaction in adolescents and social media use. The study suggested that certain age groups are more sensitive to social media.
A survey last year of 1,055 Generation Z members ages 18 to 24 found that 42% of people in the adult cohort had been diagnosed with a mental health condition. Seventy percent of survey participants also said that COVID-19 negatively impacted their mental health, although many made a connection between their poor mental health and social media.
The report found that Gen Z members spend an average of four hours daily on social media. Thirty-six percent of participants reported that they deleted their social media to protect their mental health, and more than 57% said that they had to take a social media break for their mental health.
The debate about social media and its potential harm to teens has existed for quite some time. In recent years, advocates have called on social media companies to improve safeguards to protect youth.
In 2021, The Wall Street Journal reported on an internal study launched by Meta that found one out of three teenage girls who used Instagram said the platform made them feel worse about their bodies. The leaked study also found that among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, “13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram.” The report spurred a bipartisan U.S. Senate investigation.
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