Schools across the country are reckoning with the ramifications of social media usage among their young students. Multiple school districts have filed civil lawsuits against tech companies like Meta and Google, accusing them of promoting toxic content to vulnerable teens. The schools claim they have suffered substantial financial losses while attempting to mitigate the harmful effects that poorly regulated social media has brought on in their students, such as depression and anxiety.
This is likely to be a complex process, as this is still an emerging area of personal injury law. If your school district is considering taking legal action against Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, or other social media platforms, speaking with a is the best way to establish a solid claim. Our team offers free consultations where we can provide you with a detailed look at the personal injury claims process, estimate what a claim may be worth, and explain the services we offer.
Social Media Negatively Impacts Students’ Mental Health
Research studies and anecdotal evidence alike conclude that social media can have a profound and damaging impact on young minds. Common Sense Media, a non-profit research organization, found an alarming trend in youth social media usage. They reported that pre-teens aged 8 to 12 spent an average of five and a half hours a day using screens. Teens aged 13 to 18 spent an average of over 8.5 hours a day online.
With the amount of time that the average teen spends online, toxic messages have over 40 hours a week to sink in. A teenager’s prefrontal cortex, which is a key player in decision-making, is not fully developed. That makes them more susceptible to developing depression and other serious mental health issues as a reaction to what they see online.
In fact, tech companies' own internal research shows that their platforms’ algorithms are capable of harming the mental health of children and teens. Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed that Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, was aware that Instagram was promoting unhealthy dieting messages, leading to body image issues and eating disorders in teen girls. Other studies report a correlation between social media use and depression and anxiety.
Tech Companies Argue They Have Taken Steps to Protect Teens
Various tech companies have issued statements defending their platforms. Snapchat noted that they offer a program called Here For You, which connects users with mental health experts. Representatives for Google, which owns YouTube, touted their extensive parental controls, which include the ability to limit screen time and block certain content.
Tech companies argue that they cannot be held accountable for the content posted by their users. Parents and educators dispute this abdication of responsibility and argue that even if tech companies are not liable for third-party content, they are liable for an algorithm that intentionally promotes harmful and dangerous messages to impressionable teens. Whether or not they can be held liable for damages remains undecided.
The Role of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 in Determining Liability
When the internet was in its infancy, Congress passed the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act affords tech companies substantial protections against legal responsibility for third-party content. Essentially, under Section 230 tech companies can’t be held liable for damages if someone uses their platform to post content promoting anorexia or bullying another person.
This liability shield has been a point of contention between tech companies like Meta and parents and schools. Many argue that this legislation is outdated and fails to reflect the current landscape of the internet. However, there is some grey area in regard to whether or not tech companies are legally accountable for their algorithms.
This argument will be tested as the Supreme Court takes on cases like Gonzalez v. Google, in which a family is seeking compensation for the wrongful death of their daughter after she was killed in a terrorist attack. Her parents argue that the perpetrators of the attack were radicalized online, due in large part to YouTube’s algorithm that shows users increasingly extreme content. If the Supreme Court sides with the Gonzalezes, school districts have a clearer legal path to holding tech companies liable for their damages.
Schools Demand Compensation for Damages Related to Social Media Harm
School districts across the U.S. claim toxic ideas perpetuated on social media have led to behavioral issues, mental health crises, and learning disruption. In many cases, schools are left to deal with the fallout of the mental health crisis among school-age children. This includes:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Eating disorders
- Anxiety disorders
As a result, schools have been forced to allot additional time and resources to address this mental health crisis. In the social media lawsuits, schools districts are seeking compensation for costs like:
- allocating time and money for teacher training
- bringing in outside experts
- developing resources and materials for prevention and treatment
Recovering Compensation in a Social Media Youth Harm Lawsuit
This group of product liability lawsuits is unusual in two regards. First, they are not concerned with a tangible product. Instead, these civil claims accuse tech companies of negligently allowing and promoting content that caused mental health issues through an exploitative and addictive algorithm. Second, school districts are seeking compensation for damages they incurred on behalf of their students, rather than the more common types of damages sustained by individual plaintiffs, such as medical bills or lost wages.
This combination of factors requires the expertise of a social media youth injury lawyer to successfully navigate the complex laws surrounding this issue and maximize compensation. To recover compensation for their losses, plaintiffs will need to show that tech companies owed the schools a duty of care and that their dangerous algorithms failed to fulfill this duty. Schools claim that tech companies' actions constitute a public nuisance, so therefore they should be liable.
A qualified social media youth harm attorney can offer the resources and expertise necessary to prove this claim and negotiate a fair settlement. They will protect their client’s right to compensation, analyze evidence, create a persuasive claim, and negotiate for maximum compensation.