Last Wednesday, the Oceanside Unified School District in California filed a federal trial against a wave of social media companies, targeting platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube and WhatsApp. The lawsuit claims that these platforms have created a mental health crisis among young Americans and that this crisis has led to school districts paying for increased mental health services for their students. For the school district, this amounts to a violation of the Public Nuisance Act, negligence and violations of several anti-racketeering laws.
“Defendants successfully exploited the vulnerable brains of minors, causing millions of students across the United States, including in Plaintiffs’ district, to become addicted and overuse of Defendants’ social media platforms,” says the 107-page document. complaint declares. “Defendant misconduct is a significant factor driving a mental health crisis among young people, which has been marked by increasingly high proportions of minors suffering from anxiety, depression, thoughts of self-harm and suicidal thoughts.”
According to the lawsuit, the companies “intentionally created and maintained a public nuisance” by creating “youth-oriented” platforms, designing these platforms to encourage prolonged use, and creating algorithms that “promote the consumption of harmful content and destructor by the user”. among other allegations.
THE trial asserts that these actions directly harmed the school district by “substantially and unreasonably impairing public health, safety, and the right to a public education in a safe and healthy environment”, meaning that “public nuisance created or maintained by the defendants was related to the plaintiff’s property, including, but not limited to, school buildings.”
Further, the complaint argues that the social media platforms were negligent because they “knew or, in the exercise of due diligence, should have known of the dangers and dangers of their social media platforms.” their respective platforms and, in particular, the health risks that their platforms represented for young people in a particular and particularly prolonged use of these platforms when the exposure to harmful content was reasonably foreseeable.
This isn’t the first time a school district has tried to sue social media companies over the apparent deterioration in the mental health of its students. Earlier this year, Seattle Public Schools filed a similar request trial alleging that a series of social media companies – including Meta, YouTube and Snapchat – have violated Washington state public nuisance law by adopting policies that allegedly contributed to the current mental health crisis among American teenagers.
However, both cases are unlikely to succeed. “The law really requires a high burden of proof demonstrating this causal relationship,” said Mark Bartholomew, a professor at the University at Buffalo School of Law who specializes in intellectual property and technology law. said THE Los Angeles Times. “If you have a bunch of different potential causes, it’s harder to sort out the individual parts for responsibility.”
However, even though lawsuits like these are likely doomed to fail, school districts, as well as state governments and even grieving parents– Keep trying them. While the rising rates of depression and anxiety among American teens are certainly concerning, pinning the problem to a single cause – social media platforms – is not only overly simplistic, it’s also inaccurate.
Much of the research asserting a causal link between mental health and social media use “treats individuals as faceless aggregations, which obscures the details needed to link complex phenomena like social media use. and depression”, Aaron Brown writing For Raison last month. “It’s good news that something as popular and cherished as social media isn’t clearly indicted as a destroyer of mental health… We don’t have to restrict social media for everyone on the basis of statistical aggregations.”
However, while the real causes of declining adolescent mental health are likely complex and multivariate, pinning the problem solely on social media — and the massive, faceless corporations that control them — is a much easier story to tell. adopt for litigation.