SPS has sued social media companies alleging they contributed to a youth mental health crisis.
Seattle – Seattle Public Schoolsthe state’s largest school district, is suing the major social media companies behind TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat over their impact on young people’s mental health.
The attorneys said Seattle Public Schools (SPS) may be the first district in the country to sue social media companies. The 92-page lawsuit alleges that the social media giants violated Washington’s public nuisance law and willfully contributed to the state’s youth mental health crisis.
More than 16 million daily TikTok users are under the age of 14. That’s just one statistic laid out in the SPS lawsuit that hit social media giants like Meta, Snapchat, and YouTube on Friday.
The school district is represented by Keller Rohrback, a Seattle-based firm that routinely litigates against high-profile corporate defendants on behalf of school districts and local governments.
The lawsuit alleges that social media companies have intentionally contributed to the mental health crisis of young people.
“Now you can put a number on whether or not you’re popular, how many likes you have versus how many likes I don’t,” said Dr. Lucia Magis-Weinberg.
Magis-Weinberg, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, examines adolescent development in the digital age and what is driving the mental health crisis.
“It’s really a complex mix of things, social media plays a role of course. It’s not the whole story,” Magis Weinberg said.
The lawsuit goes into great detail about its allegations that social media companies are intentionally marketing to younger users to keep them coming back.
In a statement from Felicia J. Crick, Keller Rohrback’s attorney, she said, “As of last year, nearly 50% of teens in the state spent between one and three hours per day on social media and 30%, on average, more than three hours a day.”
The lawsuit alleges that social media has contributed to an increase in anxiety, depression, cyberbullying and eating disorders, especially among young girls.
“We know that comparing ourselves is very detrimental to our self-esteem and our mental health. There are also certain aspects of social media that make it easier than it was in the past to compare yourself to someone else.”
The lawsuit alleges that SPS and its 49,000-plus students have been directly affected.
“The increase in suicides, suicide attempts, and mental health emergency room visits is no coincidence. As alleged in the complaint, this crisis was already worsening before the pandemic hit, and research has identified social media as playing a major role in causing mental health problems in young people.” , according to a statement issued by Crick.
The lawsuit notes that from 2009 to 2019, 30% of SPS students reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for more than two weeks.
The lawsuit said the district had to divert resources, hire counselors, train teachers to recognize mental health issues, and plan lessons around the dangers of platforms.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that many children are burdened with mental health challenges. Our students—and young people everywhere—are facing unprecedented learning and life struggles that are magnified by the negative effects of increased screen time, unfiltered content, and potentially addictive characteristics of social media. “We are confident and hopeful that this lawsuit is the first step toward reversing this trend for our students and children across Washington State and the entire country,” Superintendent Brent Jones said in a statement.
The suit said the SPS needed more school counselors, social workers, psychologists and nurses to meet the growing demand for services.
While King County recently allocated additional resources to school services, the attorneys said, taxpayers should not bear the brunt of the mental health crisis created by social media companies and the lawsuit aims to hold these companies accountable.
School Board Chairman Brandon Hersey said in the statement: “Our first and foremost priority is the health and well-being of our students. This obviously includes the social and emotional harm they suffer due to the negative effects of social media. By targeting social media companies, we are sending a clear message that It is time for her to prioritize the health of children over the revenue she makes from advertising.”
The lawsuit seeks the maximum damages permitted by law.
The global head of safety at Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram, responded to SPS’ lawsuit saying, “We want teens to be safe online…we automatically set teens’ accounts to private when they join Instagram, and we send push notifications. Encouraging them to take breaks Regular. We do not allow content that promotes suicide, self-harm, or eating disorders.”
Youtube, which owns Google, also filed a response to the lawsuit, telling KING 5, “We’ve invested a lot in creating safe experiences for kids… We provide parents with the ability to set reminders, limit screen time, and block certain types of content on Moderated devices,” according to a spokesperson.
Meanwhile, like many across the country, Olympia father-of-seven Eric Sarvela said his older children are exposed to mature topics and behaviors on social media.
“Vaping cigarettes or doing whatever they’re trying to do, you know, dressing sexually — not at that age where it’s okay to do that yet,” Sarvela said. “They can post whatever they want of themselves on the internet and that’s kind of dangerous.”
But teens are not alone. According to Seattle Public Schools, nearly one in three teens in Washington last year spent more than three hours a day on social media, on average. District attorneys told KING 5 that excessive and problematic use of social media leads to increased rates of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, among other things.
They added that the SPS, specifically, had been “significantly affected” by the resulting mental health crisis.
The boycott lawsuit alleges that teens’ brains are not fully developed, and that they “thus lack the same emotional maturity, impulse control, and psychological flexibility as other, more mature users.” This is something Sarvela echoed, adding that when teens see something that is beyond their maturity level, “it can really affect how [they] They see themselves, they see others, they see their life around them. But at the same time, Sarvela does not blame his children.
“I was kind of trying to brag about how younger I was. And I know, I can see where they’re coming from,” Sarvela said.
He just doubts whether the lawsuit will help.
“Are they really going to be able to stop Tik Tok? Or Instagram? We tried to stop Tik Tok or Instagram with the kids and then they’ll create another account.”