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Five hundred school districts throughout the nation—a number that is likely to grow—are suing Facebook, TikTok, and SnapChat, alleging that their platforms have become addictive products that hurt students and classroom teaching. While social media platforms have been protected by a law called Section 230 that shields them from liability for third-party posts, the lawsuit is intending to make what today’s Wall Street Journal calls an “end-run” around Section 230. The logic is these addictive products push “destructive content to youth—and that a product, unlike content, doesn’t enjoy Section 230 protections.”
The lawsuits of the individual districts have been consolidated in Oakland, California’s U.S. District Court. The suit also includes hundreds of suits by individual families “alleging harms to their children from social media.”
Snapchat, TikTok, and Facebook, owned by Snap, ByteDance, and Meta, say allowing the suit would open “floodgates” to litigation. Also, they say, their products are protected by Section 230 and they have taken steps to protect children from damaging content.
For instance, “TikTok aims to ‘protect teens by offering age-appropriate experiences with robust safety policies and features, including screen-time limits, parental controls, and restrictions on messaging and live streaming,’ a spokesman said.”
Some New Jersey school districts are joining in, although it’s unclear whether they’re part of the Oakland lawsuit. For instance, Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District, Chatham and Watchung Hills Regional High School are suing the same companies, in addition to YouTube and Google. “The social emotional well-being of our children is of the utmost importance, and that’s what we’re doing,” said Matawan-Aberdeen Regional Superintendent Joseph Majka. “We’re being proactive.”
In May, the United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory about the effects social media has on children’s mental health.
“The most common question parents ask me is, ‘is social media safe for my kids’. The answer is that we don’t have enough evidence to say it’s safe, and in fact, there is growing evidence that social media use is associated with harm to young people’s mental health,” said Dr. Murthy. “Children are exposed to harmful content on social media, ranging from violent and sexual content, to bullying and harassment. And for too many children, social media use is compromising their sleep and valuable in-person time with family and friends. We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis, and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis – one that we must urgently address.”