Social Media Companies Are Being Sued By A Maryland School

The major social media platform owners Google, Meta, ByteDance, and Snap are being sued by a public school system in Maryland for allegedly altering how children think and behave.

By Charlene Badasie | Updated

social media

A Maryland school district is suing several social media platforms for allegedly “contributing to a mental health crisis” among young people. According to a lawsuit filed by the Howard County Public School System, Meta, Google, Snap, and TikTok owner ByteDance are responsible for “addictive and dangerous products” that have altered how children “think, feel, and behave.”

The suit alleges that these social media sites cause young people to skip school, abuse alcohol or drugs, and act in ways that harm Howard County’s “ability to fulfill its educational mission.” The district says the strain has brought the institute to a breaking point. The lawsuit also mentions the addictive nature of “dopamine-triggering rewards” on each platform.

This includes TikTok’s For You page, which employs user activity data to offer an unceasing flow of suggested content. The lawsuit also highlights the recommendation algorithms used by Facebook and Instagram as features deliberately designed to promote destructive cycles of repetitive and excessive product use.

social media

The school district also accuses each social media platform of encouraging “unhealthy, negative social comparisons,” which can lead to body image issues and mental health disorders. Concerns regarding defective parental controls on each app are also addressed, along with safety gaps that could potentially promote child sexual exploitation.

“Over the past decade, Defendants have relentlessly pursued a strategy of growth-at-all costs, recklessly ignoring the impact of their products on children’s mental and physical health,” the lawsuit says. “In a race to corner the ‘valuable but untapped’ market of tween and teen users, each Defendant designed product features to promote repetitive, uncontrollable use by kids.”

Additionally, the suit claims there is a link between social media and the rise in youth suicide rates and hospital visits for anxiety disorders. According to the document, one in five high school girls had made a suicide plan in 2019 due to mental health struggles caused by social media. As such, the lawsuit aims to hold tech companies accountable and develop strategies to fund the student mental health crisis.

In a statement to The Verge, Meta’s head of safety Antigone Davis said the social media giant has “invested in technology that finds and removes content related to suicide, self-injury or eating disorders before anyone reports it.” The company pledged to continue developing new tools and policies that will meet the needs of young people and keep them safe.

Google denied the allegations. Spokesperson José Castañeda says the company has built age-appropriate experiences for kids in collaboration with child development specialists and provides parents with extensive controls. Snap spokesperson Pete Boogaard says the company checks all its content before it can reach a large audience. ByteDance has not commented yet.

The Howard County Public School System is among several school districts pursuing legal action against social media companies. Educational systems in Washington, Florida, California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Alabama, Tennessee, and more have filed similar lawsuits rooted in concern over these platforms’ adverse impact on children’s mental well-being.

In response to the safety concerns associated with social media, some states have taken measures to address the issue through legislation. Utah is set to prohibit individuals under 18 from using social platforms without parental consent in 2024. Additionally, several online safety laws have made their way to Congress, despite concerns raised by civil liberties and privacy advocates.