New Study Links Social Media Use to Risk-Taking Behavior in Adolescents

New Study Links Social Media Use to Risk-Taking Behavior in Adolescents

In recent years, parents and lawmakers have grown increasingly concerned about the influence of social media on the emotional and mental health of young users. Although prominent companies have repeatedly emphasized the safety of their platforms, a growing body of literature has indicated that sophisticated algorithms can cause serious harm to adolescents. 

A November study from BMJ expanded upon previous research to confirm the adverse behavioral effects of social media use in adolescents between the ages of 10-19 years. Researchers ultimately discovered that extensive social media use could result in harmful tendencies ranging from alcohol and drug consumption to gambling and antisocial behavior. 

The study comes in the midst of sweeping social media youth harm lawsuits that target prominent companies for the development of unsafe and addictive algorithms. As state governments, school districts, and adolescent users file suit, we are on standby to offer extensive reporting on the most crucial social media litigation 

Health Risk Behaviors and Social Media Use

One of the most important allegations in the ongoing social media youth harm lawsuits pertains to the adverse effects of social media use in vulnerable populations. Although earlier literature has investigated the role social media assumes in causing emotional and mental harm, few research studies isolated adolescents and accounted for potential bias. 

BMJ Study Highlights Risk-Taking Behavior and Social Media Use Among Adolescents

The pivotal BMJ social media study involved an extensive review of extant literature, selecting 126 publications for meta-analysis and including 1,431,534 adolescents with a mean age of 15 years. The central objective of the study was to determine the harmful association between social media use and risk-taking behaviors, discovering: 

  • Alcohol use (93.8% harmful association) 
  • Drug use (86.6% harmful association) 
  • Tobacco use (88.9% harmful association) 
  • Electronic nicotine delivery systems (88.9% harmful association) 
  • Unhealthy dietary behavior (100% harmful association)
  • Gambling (100% harmful association) 
  • Anti-social behavior (100% harmful association)
  • Sexual risk-taking (90.3% harmful association) 
  • Multiple risk behavior (100% harmful association)

Risk-taking behavior is characteristic of adolescence, and many youths abandon harmful activities and habits as they mature. However, the risk-taking proclivities the BMJ study analyzes have the potential to last for years, underscoring the necessity of holding irresponsible social media companies accountable. 

The Role of User- and Marketer-Generated Content in Social Media Harm

There is an important distinction between user-generated content and marketer-generated content in the context of the endangerment of adolescent users. For example, user-generated content has the potential to result in greater peer pressure and is chiefly responsible for viral trends that have claimed the lives of children in recent years. 

The BMJ study discovered that the harmful association between social media use and alcohol consumption was primarily a consequence of user-generated content as opposed to advertisements. Overall, researchers suspect that exposure to health risk behavior from other users can cause adolescents to develop similar tendencies in much the same way traditional media, like film, influence younger audiences. 

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act 

Until recently, social media companies avoided liability for the harm their platforms cause through protections enshrined in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The statute ensures that social media operators cannot be held accountable for the content third-party creators disseminate. 

However, social media companies are not neutral arbitrators of digital forums. In fact, they assume a critical role in the distribution of potentially harmful material through sophisticated algorithms that promote, amplify, and suggest content to users. 

For example, after a 2015 terror attack, in Paris, the parents of a slain American student filed suit against Google for the role its popular video platform YouTube played in disseminating radical content. Gonzalez v. Google became a critical lawsuit in devising a legal method to circumvent the near-absolute protections of Section 230. 

Social Media Companies Knew of the Threat to Adolescent Health

In 2021, a former data scientist at Facebook, Frances Haugen, released internal documents that revealed the extent to which Meta knew of the harm its platforms caused to youths. The whistleblowing sensation resulted in extensive press coverage, particularly from The Wall Street Journal, whose analysis of the documents prompted Meta to suspend the development of an Instagram application for young children. 

Aside from alerting the public and parents to the inherent risks of social media use in adolescents, Haugen’s revelations also exposed Meta’s considerable investments in knowingly harmful algorithms. The documents and internal studies Haugen published will likely assume an important role in the ongoing youth social media lawsuits

Adolescents Vulnerable to Sophisticated Social Media Algorithms

In a high-profile congressional hearing, Senator Marsha Blackburn asserted that Meta and other platforms had intentionally developed addictive social media algorithms to retain young users. Her statements corroborated the conclusions of health experts which have identified the vulnerability of developing minds to the attractive designs of sophisticated social media technologies. 

For example, an APA article identified the importance of “attention, feedback, and reinforcement from peers” in adolescents, which social media companies exploit through a barrage of likes, notifications, and content.

An earlier survey from Harvard even compared social media’s effect on neural pathways to “slot machines and cocaine”. Given the BMJ study’s identification of gambling and drug consumption in adolescent social media users, the analogy is not inapt. 

Product Liability Lawsuits Target Prominent Social Media Companies

The real-world consequences of harmful social media use are difficult to understate. Self-conscious girls and boys have reported feelings of dissatisfaction with their bodies, causing some to develop eating disorders. Others were subjected to such intense bullying or harassment that they either committed suicide or developed suicidal ideation. 

These unfortunate realities reinforce the importance of holding reckless social media companies accountable for their exploitation of vulnerable populations. In an attempt to seek justice and compensation, parents of adolescent social media users have begun filing product liability lawsuits against prominent social media companies like Meta, X, and Snapchat. 

Avoiding a direct confrontation with Section 230 protections, social media youth harm lawsuits target the companies’ use of dangerous algorithms to increase profits while ignoring the risks and harms they pose. 

Social Media Youth Harm MDL in California District Court 

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) recently created a social media youth harm MDL in order to streamline pretrial proceedings. In contrast to class action litigation, MDLs involve the consolidation of similar cases for the discovery process, bellwether trials, and pretrial negotiations. 

The JPML transferred the action to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The litigation is the most extensive challenge to the considerable immunity social media companies have enjoyed in the past and is poised to alter the legal landscape governing the development of harmful algorithms. 

In the future, the presiding magistrate will likely establish a mechanism for streamlined enrollment in the MDL, enabling eligible plaintiffs to challenge the reckless business practices of:

  • Alphabet Inc. (Google and YouTube)
  • Meta (Facebook and Instagram)
  • Snap Inc. (Snapchat)
  • ByteDance (TikTok)

Common Injuries in Social Media Youth Harm Lawsuits 

Although social media apps have the potential to provide a sense of community, disseminate useful information, and increase contact in an age of loneliness, they are also responsible for severe and irreversible harm to children and adolescents. The irresponsible companies which produce them either knew or ought to have known of these risks, but failed to take appropriate actions to mitigate them. 

As a result, devoted users ranging from young children to adolescents have sustained severe injuries, including: 

  • Depression 
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Illicit substance addiction
  • Isolation 
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Risk-taking behavior

Common Damages in Social Media Youth Harm Lawsuits

Recovering from any of the injuries associated with social media use can require considerable time, extensive counseling, and ample financial support. Fortunately, social media youth harm lawsuits enable families to seek compensation in the form of economic and non-economic damages addressing: 

  • Medical costs – past, present, and future 
  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Transportation costs
  • Pain and suffering 
  • Mental anguish 
  • Decreased quality of life 

Although online services offer quick compensation estimates, they cannot account for the unique circumstances of an individual’s claim or perform holistic assessments. Consequently, the best way to determine how much your social media youth harm lawsuit may be worth is to speak with a qualified product liability lawyer today. 

Contact an Experienced Social Media Youth Harm Lawyer Today

We suspect that the number of social media youth harm lawsuits is likely to grow exponentially in the coming months. That is why our qualified social media youth harm lawyers are on standby to provide information and counsel as you make the important decision to file suit against some of the most influential and wealthy companies in the world. 

In a free consultation, we can determine the viability of your claim, calculate the compensation to which you may be entitled, and explain the complex process of enrolling in an MDL. Our talented legal team has a proven track record of success and maintains a steadfast commitment to defending the rights of social media users against the predations of powerful corporations. 

If you or someone you know suffered serious injuries connected to social media use, contact us today. 


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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