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Big Tech 'created' youth mental health crisis: School district's lawsuit claims social media platforms overwhelmed schools' resources

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On Friday, Seattle Public Schools filed a lawsuit against several social media giants, claiming that the companies have "created" a youth mental health crisis that has directly interfered with teachers' ability to instruct students and strained school resources.

What are the details?

The lawsuit claims that social media platforms violated Washington's public nuisance law and seeks the maximum amount of compensatory damages from the parent companies of Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube. According to the complaint, damages will be used to expand SPS's mental health resources.

The district claimed that the defendants have "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."

According to SPS, nearly 50% of Washington students reported spending one to three hours per day on various social media platforms, and another 30% admitted to spending three or more hours per day.

In a Saturday statement, SPS Superintendent Brent Jones said, "Our students - and young people everywhere - face unprecedented, learning and life struggles that are amplified by the negative impacts of increased screen time, unfiltered content, and potentially addictive properties of social media. We are confident and hopeful that this lawsuit is the first step toward reversing this trend for our students, children throughout Washington state, and the entire country."

SPS's lawsuit claimed that youths "are struggling with anxiety, depression, thoughts of self-harm, and suicidal ideation."

The district argued that social media platforms exacerbate the youth mental health crisis, thereby straining the district's resources. As a result, SPS aims to hire more school counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses.

"This crisis was already growing before the pandemic and research has identified social media as playing a major role in causing mental health problems in youth," SPS stated.

The lawsuit alleged that the social media giants are to blame for an uptick in anxiety, depression, cyberbullying, and eating disorders among young people.

"Research tells us that excessive and problematic use of social media is harmful to the mental, behavioral, and emotional health of youth and is associated with increased rates of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, eating disorders, and suicide," the district said.

SPS argued that "taxpayers should not bear the burden for the mental health crisis social media companies have created."

Big Tech responds to lawsuit

A spokesperson from Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, told KING-TV, "We want teens to be safe online… We automatically set teens' accounts to private when they join Instagram, and we send notifications encouraging them to take regular breaks. We don't allow content that promotes suicide, self-harm or eating disorders."

A spokesperson from Google, which owns YouTube, told the news outlet, "We have invested heavily in creating safe experiences for children… We provide parents with the ability to set reminders, limit screen time and block specific types of content on supervised devices."

"We will continue working to make sure our platform is safe and to give Snapchatters dealing with mental health issues resources to help them deal with the challenges facing young people today," a Snapchat spokesperson told the Associated Press.

According to the New York Post, KING-TV, and the Associated Press, TikTok did not respond to a request for comment.

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