Mark Zuckerberg’s Defense Against Social Media’s Responsibility to Protect Young People

Mark Zuckerberg’s Defense Against Social Media’s Responsibility to Protect Young People

Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, appeared in court recently to testify about Facebook and Instagram’s role in helping protect young children and teens from harmful social media content and practices. The multidistrict litigation (MDL) against numerous social media companies has started a discussion about social media’s influence and its role in protecting users among parents, community members, and the public in general. What are the legal duties of social media companies to protect the underage people who use their platforms?

What Is The Social Media MDL About?

Zuckerberg's defense serves as an indication to the complexity of upholding legal liability in the digital age, especially when it comes to the complexity of social media interactions and information sharing.

The lawsuit primarily focuses on the alleged failure of Meta (Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp), ByteDance Inc. (TikTok), Snap Inc. (Snapchat), and YouTube to warn tweens and teens, and more importantly their parents, about potential mental harm and addictive nature of these roaringly popular social media platforms. 

The plaintiffs’ attorneys have linked social media usage, particularly on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, to a variety of problems.

What Harms Can Social Media Cause?

We all know that social media can be a powerful tool for connection, information, and just passing time. However, it has always been clear that there are potential negative consequences due to the vast power of these platforms. 

Social media has been proven to cause a multitude of problems in children and teens, including:

Mental Health

  • Increased anxiety and depression: Social media can fuel feelings of inadequacy and loneliness already present in teens, especially because of the constant comparison to others' presentation of their “real” lives online. This can lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts.
  • Body image issues: The prevalence of idealized and unrealistic portrayals of beauty standards on social media can contribute to body dysmorphia and eating disorders, particularly among young girls and boys. In a world where everyone looks perfect because of filters and photo manipulation, or when a person with clear anorexia has 30 million followers, it’s not hard to see why.
  • Cyberbullying and harassment: Online anonymity can embolden bullies to harm their victims in ways they never would, or could, in real life, leading to hurtful comments, exclusion, and emotional distress. This can be especially harmful for vulnerable groups like LGBTQ+ youth.
  • Sleep disruption: The blue light emitted by screens and the addictive nature of social media can interfere with sleep, which is crucial for mental and physical health.

Social Development

  • Reduced face-to-face interaction: Excessive social media time often replaces real-life interactions among young people, hindering their development of important social skills like face-to-face communication, empathy, and conflict resolution.
  • Fear of missing out (FOMO): The constant stream of updates and activities on social media can create a feeling of FOMO, especially since people usually only post the most exciting parts of their lives, leading to anxiety and dissatisfaction with their own lives.
  • Privacy concerns: Sharing personal information online, either knowingly or through deceptive means, can have unintended consequences, like cyberstalking, identity theft, or even reputational damage.

Other Potential Harms

  • Exposure to inappropriate content: Social media can expose children and teens to harmful content like violence, hate speech, or pornography. This material, when viewed at too young of an age and while the brain is still developing, has been proven to be disturbing and harm children’s development.
  • Addiction: Social media platforms have been proven to be specifically designed to be addictive, often using the same tactics as casinos like small rewards, flashing lights and moving images, a sense of progression, and a constant feeling of being “almost there”. This leads to excessive or near-constant social media use and neglecting other important activities like schoolwork, hobbies, or spending time with family and friends.
  • Misinformation and fake news: The spread of misinformation and fake news on social media can be harmful, especially for young people who may not have the critical thinking skills to discern truth from fiction. This is a problem for most adults, much less young teens.

As you can see, there are clear signs that something more should be done to protect tweens and teens online. But how do you force social media to do something and what laws do you apply? That is the question at hand.

Zuckerberg’s Stance on Social Media Responsibilities

Zuckerberg's stance is resolute. He argues that his responsibilities as the CEO must be viewed through the lens of "a duty to disclose does not exist absent a contractual or other special relationship between the parties." 

His defense hinges on the absence of specific laws (or legal obligations) since the user-and-platform relationship does not have any specific agreements or legal ties that require disclosures or specific actions.

He also emphasizes that he has no legal duty to reveal internal knowledge about the platform's effects or workings.

This stance is familiar since it is the same defense used by corporations regarding social responsibility which only further highlights a critical gap in consumer protection laws, especially when it comes to children. 

Whether the companies and their leaders should bear personal accountability for the broad, and often ambiguous, consequences of social media use remains a question without a clear answer.

Zuckerberg has also challenged the plaintiffs to demonstrate a tangible link between their client’s injuries and any specific omission or action on his part. 

He also questions whether testimony alone (i.e. someone saying they did something because of something they saw on social media and not because of a more complex mental health issue or other outside factors) is sufficient for legal proceedings.

This evidential challenge raises the bar for proving causation in cases of social media injuries.

In conclusion, the legal battle around social media and its potential to cause harm to young people is just the beginning of what promises to be a long and intricate journey. 

The outcomes of this MDL and similar cases will set a precedent for responsibilities, defining liabilities, and protecting the large populations that use social media daily, especially youth social media users.

Has Your Child Been Harmed By Social Media?

Lawsuit Legal News is committed to providing consumers with the information they need to make informed decisions about their rights. Our associated law firm, Dolman Law Group, has decades of experience fighting for individuals’ rights against large, powerful corporations, including tech companies. 

We have made it a goal of ours to litigate against major corporations for the harms they commit against individual consumers, and we have developed a reputation nationwide for not backing down from this mission. 

We are ready to help you advocate for your minor loved one who has experienced mental, social, or other harm due to social media. The compassionate, experienced, and dedicated attorneys at Dolman Law Group are available for a no-cost consultation to discuss your rights and your eligibility under the Multidistrict litigation against major social media companies. 

For more information and to schedule your free consultation, contact us here.


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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