Current estimates suggest that more than 21 million American teens and young adults are members of various social media sites. Social media has an array of positive features, like communicating and staying up-to-date with friends and families around the world, and networking with people who share similar interests.
However, various research studies have linked social media to several harmful effects for teens. Social media can not only distract teens and disrupt their sleeping schedules, it also exposes them to cyberbullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people’s lives, and peer pressure. Another study strongly links high rates of social media use to anxiety and depression.
Many social media users and their family members are saying the platforms have a much darker and dangerous side to them – and that the companies have known all along what they were doing to millions of young, vulnerable users.
Families File Class Action Lawsuit Against Social Media Channels
Over 1,200 families are pursuing lawsuits against social media channels including TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat, and Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook. Altogether, more than 100 cases have been consolidated into one multi-district lawsuit. The plaintiffs argue that these companies designed their social media platforms (and the websites’ algorithms) to be intentionally addictive while failing to warn users.
“Rather than making meaningful changes to safeguard the health and safety of its adolescent users, Meta has consistently chosen to prioritize profit over safety,” the lawsuit states.
The federal lawsuit was prompted when Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee turned whistleblower, came forward with internal documents showing that Meta was aware that its platforms and products cause significant harm to its users, especially children.
According to the families of alleged victims, these platforms have created a very real and harmful public health crisis for young users. Here are just a couple examples of distressing allegations from the class-action lawsuit:
- The Spence family says their daughter developed an eating disorder by age 12. The girl had an Instagram account. But what started as a simple search for a workout routine turned into a content feed full of eating disorder propaganda. Eventually, the girl became suicidal.
- The Roberts family calls social media the “silent killer for our children’s generation.” The Roberts’ tragically lost their 14-year-old daughter. The young teen ended her life after being sent distressing content from a friend. The content showed a woman pretending to hang herself. Later, that’s what the teen did. The family had to fight to have the video removed from the website for nearly a year and a half after their child’s death.
School districts have also joined the class-action lawsuit.
- The School District of Seattle launched a complaint against tech companies like TikTok and Meta for creating what it calls a “youth mental health crisis.”
Dexter Community Schools in Michigan alleges that social media products like Facebook and Instagram have a “defective design” that isn’t safe, particularly for kids, and yet media companies are actively marketing to children, Dexter Community Schools Superintendent Chris Timmis said.
Is Social Media a Product or Service?
Lawyers working on the case compare their work to the fight against tobacco or opioids. The federal lawsuit alleges that social media channels are equivalent to dangerous and defective products, with app makers predatorily targeting young users to get them hooked on their services for good.
As such, this lawsuit may very well make legal history. It is groundbreaking because it seeks to answer a complex, important question: are social media platforms consumer products, or “intangible communications services”? And if they are indeed products, then can’t they be just as dangerous as, say, faulty seat belts?
“Defendants have intentionally designed their products to maximize users’ screen time, using complex algorithms designed to exploit human psychology and driven by advanced computer algorithms and artificial intelligence,” the federal lawsuit states. “Defendants have progressively modified their products to promote problematic and excessive use that they know threatens the actuation of addictive and self-destructive behavioral patterns.”
Only time will tell if the social media giants start to make changes to safeguard the health and safety of adolescents – or if teens and other young users will continue to pay the price for social media companies’ increased profits.
What do you think? Is social media a consumer product or a communication service, or maybe both? Leave a comment!