Seattle Schools Sue Social Media Over Youth Mental Health Crisis

( – The Public School District of Seattle has filed a lawsuit against owners of popular social media platforms, arguing that they have “created a public nuisance” by targeting their products to children. The plaintiffs assert that the social media giants have “exploited the vulnerable brains of youth,” directing them to be harmful and exploitative content and contributing to cyberbullying, self-harm, and poor school performance.

The school district’s goal is to force the platforms to admit responsibility for directing children’s attention to harmful content via their algorithms, as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields them from liability for the content itself. The district seeks to make social media companies pay for the prevention, education, and treatment of mental health issues caused by social media use.

That social media is harmful to children is well known, as Facebook found out from its own research as far back as 2019. An internal presentation outlining the findings of their investigations into Instagram stated that the app made “body image issues worse for one in three teen girls” and that teens, in general, blame the app for increased anxiety and depression. 

Facebook has repeatedly refused to make this internal research public, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s public comments suggest that social media can have positive mental health benefits.

Kara Frederick, a former Facebook analyst interviewed in February 2022, said that Facebook considered pre-teens an untapped but valuable audience, who she said was being “purposely poisoned” with highly addictive content. She pointed out that 6% of Instagram users traced their suicidal ideation to Instagram. TikTok has been shown to push videos to children promoting eating disorders, verbal and physical ticks normally associated with Tourette’s syndrome, and gender dissatisfaction.

Ms. Frederick said it was time for Congress to act, applauding Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s attempts to enforce an 18-year-old age limit for social media use.

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