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Social media sued by Seattle public schools over mental health concerns

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Companies behind social media platforms like Meta, TikTok, YouTube, and Snapchat, among others, are being sued for spreading harm to teenage mental health by public schools in Seattle. The 91-page lawsuit was filed on Friday at the U.S. District Court.

The schools blame tech giants for allegedly putting the mental health of "America’s youth" at risk claiming that they design harmful products that “exploit the psychology and neurophysiology of their users” and force them to spend more time using these platforms. The lawsuit adds that the harmful content viewed by young minds on social media deteriorates students’ performance in schools and mentions they are “ less likely to attend school, more likely to engage in substance use, and to act out, all of which directly affects Seattle Public Schools’ ability to fulfill its educational mission.” It highlights that in ten years from 2009 to 2019, Seattle schools saw a 30% increase in reports of students feeling "so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that [they] stopped doing some usual activities.”

The lawsuit states:

“Defendants have successfully exploited the vulnerable brains of youth, hooking tens of millions of students across the country into positive feedback loops of excessive use and abuse of Defendants’ social media platforms. Worse, the content Defendants curate and direct to youth is too often harmful and exploitive (e.g., promoting a “corpse bride” diet, eating 300 calories a day, or encouraging self-harm).”

According to the lawsuit, these companies have also transgressed Washington’s public nuisance law. Furthermore, it argues that while Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act states that the responsibility of the posted content lies with the original poster, these companies are still accountable for what they recommend, promote, and distribute on their platforms.

Among the defendants of the case is Google, whose spokesperson José Castañeda told Axios in a statement that the company is doing its job to protect its users across its platforms. He mentioned:

“We have invested heavily in creating safe experiences for children across our platforms and have introduced strong protections and dedicated features to prioritize their wellbeing, for example, through Family Link, we provide parents with the ability to set reminders, limit screen time and block specific types of content on supervised devices.”

Meta’s global head of safety, Antigone Davis, also mentioned to Axios that the company has developed “more than 30 tools” to increase parental controls and supervision on how their teens use social media. He added that the age-verification technology also helps channel age-appropriate content to its users. TikTok, on the other hand, has yet to comment on the situation.

Moreover, a Snap spokesperson told Reuters:

“While we can’t comment on the specifics of active litigation, nothing is more important to us than the wellbeing of our community. We will continue working to make sure our platform is safe and to give Snapchatters dealing with mental health issues resources to help them deal with the challenges facing young people today.”

The lawsuit seeks money for education on preventing the unhealthy use of social media platforms and other damages caused by the “public nuisance.”

Source: The Guardian

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