- Laying blame for the youth mental health crisis squarely on the doorstep of social media companies, Seattle Public Schools have filed a lawsuit alleging that the platforms purposefully designed, marketed and promoted the platforms to maximize use among children and teens despite knowing the harm that would cause.
- The lawsuit claims the social media companies behind Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and TikTok violated Washington’s public nuisance law by igniting a mental health crisis in Seattle Public Schools. That law defines a public nuisance as something “which affects equally the rights of an entire community or neighborhood, although the extent of the damage may be unequal.”
- Though the lawsuit did request an exact dollar amount, it seeks “equitable relief” to pay for education and treatment for excessive and concerning use of social media. The suit also seeks maximum statutory and civil penalties, including actual and compensatory damages allowed under the public nuisance law.
The Seattle Public Schools lawsuit cited President Joe Biden’s 2022 State of the Union, in which he called for holding social media companies accountable for their impact on youth mental health. The district said it is suing “to do just that.”
Noting children were struggling even before the pandemic, Biden said, “We must hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit.”
In 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared worsening mental health among children to be a national emergency. Though the issue predated COVID-19, it was exacerbated by lockdown isolation, family health concerns, disrupted home lives and other pandemic-related factors.
Additionally, a November study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found higher youth suicide rates connected to mental health workforce shortages.
As a result of social media companies’ alleged damage to student mental health in Seattle Public Schools, the district said in its lawsuit that it has had to hire more staff to address mental, emotional and social health issues. The district said it has also created lesson plans for students to learn about the harms of social media. It has also had to increase disciplinary measures while spending more time addressing bullying, harassment and threats it alleges that social media causes.
In response to the lawsuit, Antigone Davis, global head of safety at Meta, said the parent company of Facebook and Instagram has created over 30 tools to help families and teens on their websites, Axios reports. Such tools include assisting with parent supervision and allowing them to limit their children’s time spent on Instagram, Davis said.
"We'll continue to work closely with experts, policymakers and parents on these important issues,” Davis said.