Seattle Public Schools (SPS), filed earlier this week a U.S. District Court complaint against multiple social media firms, alleging that these platforms cause harm to students’ emotional and social health. These firms include TikTok and Meta-owned Instagram and Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube.
Kent School District, a neighboring district, joined the 91 page complaint. It claims that social media companies created a public nuisance targeting children with their products. According to the complaint, social media has been blamed for various behavioral disorders such as anxiety, depression, cyberbullying, and disordered eating. Additionally, it was suggested that students are more distracted from their educations by these companies.
The goal of social media is not to be eliminated, but rather to make these businesses more accountable and change the way they operate. SPS revealed that we are asking the companies in question to put their best efforts into protecting students.
“Young people in the country are experiencing anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide. SPS added that this mental health crisis affects the SPS’s mission to educate students and drains resources from schools.
TikTok refused to respond to the lawsuit. However, TikTok spokespersons stated that they prioritize safety and wellbeing of teenagers through screentime management and age restrictions.
Other social media platforms did not reply to our request for comment.
Kids And Social Media
While this lawsuit is not the first for a social-media company, it’s unclear if they can do more than make headlines.
“For a school district to file a suit against major companies blaming the mental issues of students looks past the overarching problem – namely where do parents fall in regarding their responsibility. Jason Mollica (professorial lecturer at American University) said that this is an important question. Parents should monitor what their children are doing online.
This isn’t to say that the problem doesn’t exist, and Mollica noted that there have been plenty of studies that show that too much social media exposure isn’t good for younger users – it can impact self-esteem and body image, and be a conduit for cyberbullying.
Mollica added that she knows Facebook and Twitter aren’t the most effective places to reinforce positive behavior.
A lawsuit, however, is unlikely to go very far.
Section 230 of Title 47 of the United States Code (47 USC § 230), part of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, essentially provides a legal shield for Internet companies noted Dr. Clifford Lampe, professor of information and associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Information at the University of Michigan.
He said that it was unrealistic to expect social media companies to act in the best interests of users.
Platforms are built to sell attention and don’t consider health and well-being. Lampe stated that they want us to be engaged so they can provide the same care to our flock as a shepherd would.
Companies are accused of using “Dark Patterns” to engage users longer. Experts suggest these users be taught how these platforms manipulate them, rather than suing.
This applies to all children.
Lampe said, “We should be more socially literate in order to identify when we are either ‘doom-scrolling’ on the platforms or just spending too long on them.”
New Moral Panic
It is notable that the suit harkens to the past attempts to blame society for problems. It was before social media that it was videogames, but it wasn’t movies or heavy metal music. Dungeons & DragonsComic books, jazz music and written novels.
Each generation desires to be the one responsible for all of the new big things.
Mollica said, “There has been always something to blame.” Mollica stated that AC/DC sued after a suicide victim in 1980, while more recently video game companies have been subject to Congressional hearings.
This is the latest effort to transfer the blame.
Lampe said that “there have always been technological moral panics,” such as the time the telephone entered your home. It was assumed that strangers could simply enter without you asking.” Lampe said, “But this all goes back to Socrates’ warning that the written word can ruin memories!”
Mollica said, “Blame shouldn’t be just transferred to parents,” for reasons that have already been stated about how companies use social media. It shouldn’t be all about lawsuits.
“A lawsuit will not be beneficial in any way in making social media more appealing to youth users,” he said. It won’t accomplish much. Children will overcome age restrictions. However, it is likely that this won’t happen. It is important to teach children to use the platforms correctly and not to let them get lost.