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Tipsheet

Public School District Sues TikTok, Facebook for Youth Mental Health Crisis

AP Photo

Seattle Public Schools filed a lawsuit against the companies behind several social media platforms, including TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat, for their role in the mental health crisis among America’s youth.

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Reportedly, the complaint filed against the social media companies alleges that the platforms purposefully design their products to “hook” young people, which leads to a mental health crisis (via Reuters):

The lawsuit says the companies' actions have been a substantial factor in causing a youth mental health crisis.

"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 lawsuit said.

Students with mental health issues perform worse, causing schools to take steps including training teachers to identify and address such symptoms, hire trained personnel, and create additional resources to warn students about the dangers of social media, the complaint said.

The lawsuit seeks compensation for monetary damages and other penalties.

According to Seattle-based outlet King5, more than 16 million daily TikTok users are under age 14. 

Dr. Lucia Magis-Weinberg, a psychology professor at University of Washington, told the outlet that social media “can actually put a number on whether you’re popular or not, how many likes you have versus how many likes I don’t have.”

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Felicia Craick, an attorney for Keller Rohrback, the law firm representing the school district, said that “as of last year, almost 50 percent of teenagers in the state spent between one and three hours a day on social media and 30 percent averaged more than three hours a day.”

Reportedly, the lawsuit claims that the school district and its 49,000 students have been “directly impacted.”

“The increase in suicides, attempted suicides, and mental-health ER visits is no coincidence. As alleged in the complaint, 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,” Craick said in a statement to King5.

“It has become increasingly clear that many children are burdened by mental health challenges. 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," Superintendent Brent Jones said in a statement.

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Last year, a study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 40 percent of teens felt “sad or hopeless” during the pandemic. 

“These data echo a cry for help,” said CDC Acting Principal Deputy Director Debra Houry in a press release on the findings. “The COVID-19 pandemic has created traumatic stressors that have the potential to further erode students’ mental wellbeing. Our research shows that surrounding youth with the proper support can reverse these trends and help our youth now and in the future.”

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