The public school district in Seattle, Washington has filed a novel lawsuit against social media companies TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat in an effort to hold them accountable for their role in the widespread mental health crisis impacting adolescents.
Filed Friday in U.S. District Court, the complaint totals 91 pages, according to NPR, and accuses social media platforms of worsening conditions such as anxiety, depression, and disordered eating.
"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," the filing reads. "Worse, the content Defendants curate and direct to youth is too often harmful and exploitive."
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act would typically prevent online platforms from being held accountable for content users post. Seattle's lawsuit may prove an exception, as it argues that inaction among companies to monitor harmful content on a larger scale is not protected when considering the damage done.
"Plaintiff is not alleging Defendants are liable for what third-parties have said on Defendants' platforms but, rather, for Defendants' own conduct," the lawsuit said. "Defendants affirmatively recommend and promote harmful content to youth, such as pro-anorexia and eating disorder content."
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked information in 2021 that revealed Facebook and Instagram were aware that algorithms negatively affected teenagers by increasing their exposure to content related to suicide, self-harm, and eating disorders. Haugen alleged that companies "prioritized profits over people" by hiding their research from investors and the public.
The most recent lawsuit claims that from 2009 to 2019, there was a 30 percent increase in students who reported feeling "so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row" that it prevented them from engaging in daily activities.
While several individuals have filed suits against online giants, the case in Seattle is the first brought by a public school district. Seattle schools are seeking paid damages in the form of funds for counselors and mental health outreach programs.
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