Why Seattle Schools Are Suing Big Tech Over Youth Mental Health: NPR
Richard Drew / AP
Concerns about the impact of social media on interwoven children come from all angles.
President Joe Biden urged Congress on Wednesday to hold big tech companies accountable for dangerous content shared on social media, and to step up privacy protections specifically for children.
“Millions of young people suffer from bullying, violence, trauma and mental health,” Biden wrote in an op-ed. “We must hold social media companies accountable for the for-profit experiment they are conducting on our children.” Posted in Wall Street Journal.
Prosecutors are investigating the impact of social media on children. Congress has called hearings on the matter. Schools are ringing alarm bells, too.
Seattle public schools on friday a 91-page lawsuit against the companies behind TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube in federal district court.
The public school district claims harmful content is being recommended to students online, exacerbating the mental health crisis, and social media companies are allowing this to happen.
Here’s what you need to know about the lawsuit.
The school system accuses social media platforms of increasing students’ anxiety and depression
Seattle Public Schools claims that the very design of these platforms, which seek to maximize the amount of time users spend on them, is flawed and dangerous — especially for children.
They argue that the longer people stay on social media, the more ads those companies sell, and therefore the more money they can make. And some features, such as push notifications, are designed to attract users, making them hard to ignore, especially for kids, the school district claims.
He also points to studies indicating that teens who spend too much time on screens are more likely to receive a diagnosis of depression or anxiety, experience cyberbullying and not get enough sleep.
According to the lawsuit, the social media companies “exploited the vulnerable minds of young people, connecting tens of millions of students across the country in positive feedback loops of excessive use and abuse.”
The suit cites a Investigation 2021 According to The Wall Street Journal, several teenage girls reported developing or relapsing eating disorders after TikTok promoted videos of them on extreme diets.
The issue of dangerous content on social media is not new.
As reported by NPR in 2021Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before Congress, saying that executives hid research on the risks the company’s products posed to children.
Since then, the parent company has increased Meta, Facebook and Instagram Safety features for teensincluding efforts to prevent Unsolicited contact from adults, tools that allow parents to limit the amount of time their children spend on Instagram and age verification technology.
“We want teens to be safe online,” Meta Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis told NPR in an email. “We do not allow content that promotes suicide, self-harm, or eating disorders, and the content that we remove or take action on, we identify over 99% of before it is reported to us.”
It has not commented directly on the Seattle Public Schools lawsuit.
The company, which owns YouTube, has “provided robust protections and features dedicated to prioritizing its well-being,” said Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesperson. He also did not comment directly on the lawsuit.
A Snap spokesperson and a TikTok spokesperson said they could not comment on the litigation but that the welfare of users is a priority.
The school system says it does not have the resources to manage a crisis exacerbated by social media
In the lawsuit, Seattle Public Schools says the number of students who reported feeling “extreme sadness or hopelessness almost every day for two weeks or more in a row [they] I stopped doing some of my usual activities” increased by 30% from 2009, when smartphones gained momentum, to 2019, by which time they were ubiquitous.
“Our students — and young people everywhere — face learning difficulties and unprecedented lives compounded by the negative effects of increased screen time, unfiltered content, and potentially addictive characteristics of social media,” Seattle Public Schools superintendent Brent Jones said in a statement.
But the school system says it does not have enough staff to handle the growing number of students seeking mental health counseling.
“Our duty is to create the conditions for students to thrive and have high-quality educational experiences,” said Jones. “The harm these companies are causing is inconsistent with that.”
Nationally, more than half of public school systems say they can effectively provide mental health services to students in need According to the National Center for Education.
The Seattle-based law firm Keller Rohrback is representing the school district in the lawsuit on a contingent basis, which means the attorneys won’t get paid unless they win and the firms are required to pay a fine, according to Tim Robinson, head of media relations for Seattle Public Schools.
Tech companies have a strong legal shield, but they’re about to be challenged
It is almost impossible to sue social media companies over the content on their platforms due to a law known as Section 230. It is part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which states that technology companies cannot be held responsible for what others share on their sites.
But this may change soon.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments next month In a case that aims to constrain Section 230 and puts social media companies’ recommendation algorithms front and center. These recommendation formulas are at the core of the Seattle Public Schools lawsuit, too.
Right now, the public school system has a steep legal road to climb, according to Ryan Calo, a professor at the University of Washington School of Law. But he said if the plaintiffs are successful in the case before the Supreme Court, it could open the door to this kind of controversy.
Callow does not participate in either advocacy, but he does have two kids in Seattle Public Schools, one in seventh grade and the other in third grade. Not surprisingly, he said, this is happening in Seattle, home to tech giants including Amazon and Microsoft, which has always been at the forefront of the internet and the digital world.
Even if the case never goes to court, Callow said, filing it allows the school district to draw attention to the case.
“They can do this as a convincing and sympathetic plaintiff in the form of a school district that cares about its children.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (the deaf and hard of hearing: 800-799-4889) or Crisis text font By texting HOME to 741741.