Since late 2022, a handful of United States school districts have filed lawsuits against social media companies, claiming that the platforms have caused, or directly influenced, a mental health crisis amongst students. The lawsuits claim that social media has made the school districts’ job of educating their students nearly impossible because of the addictive nature of the platforms’ technology. School districts in Washington, Oregon, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Arizona have all filed similar lawsuits, directed at social media sites like Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. Though each lawsuit’s claims are relatively unique, they commonly allege that the social media companies’ platforms exploit the psychology and neurophysiology of people, especially young people, to ensure these younger users spend as much time on the platform as possible. These long usage times equates to more advertisement profits, which the suits allege is a primary motivating factor for the companies, at the expense of young people’s mental health.
According to reports, more than 90% of children ages 13 to 17 use social media, which highlights both the importance of the user base for the platforms, as well as the ubiquitousness of social media usage in young people. One study found that adolescents who spend more than three hours per day on social media are at a higher risk of mental health problems, including suicidal ideation. Social media use has also been linked to increased feelings of social isolation, as individuals may compare their own lives to the curated, filtered versions of others they see online.
The lawsuits have generated a number of legal questions around both the ability of the school districts to sue and their chances of a successful verdict. More than one district has noted that their motivations to bring suits are varied. Universally it seems that districts’ desire to ensure these social media platforms curb their current practices and take serious steps in altering how their business models and algorithms target young people, and some districts are also seeking financial compensation in the hopes to obtain resources to combat the alleged harms already done to today’s school-aged youth.
This week’s Current Events resources examine the ongoing conversations around social media’s impact on the mental health of students and young people. The resources shared provide information and context around the ongoing lawsuits aimed at social media companies’ impact on its young users and the way communities are approaching mitigating and addresses the associated issues.
Essential Questions, Vocabulary & Extend the Resources:
- What is social media?
- How have youth’s social media habits changed over the last 15 years?
- What impacts have been observed in youth who use social media platforms?
- Why are school districts around the U.S. suing social media platforms? Do you believe they will be successful? Explain
- In your opinion, are lawsuits and court actions the proper venue for government entities to try to intervene and protect youth from the negative consequences of current social media usage? If not, what other actions would be more effective? Explain.
- In your opinion, what level of responsibility do social media companies have as it relates to the wellbeing of their younger users?
Click here for a hardcopy of the Essential Questions and Social Media & Mental Health Vocabulary
Click here for a hardcopy of Extension Activities CLP suggests implementing with this content
The Impact of Electronic Devices on Kids’ Brains with Tom Kersting, ScreenStrong Families
Seattle sues social media over youth mental health, All Things Considered, NPR, January 16, 2023
A Sweeping Plan to Protect Kids From Social Medial, The Daily, The New York Times, March 27, 2023
The ups and downs of social media, On Our Minds, PBS
Impact of Social Media Use on Mental Health within Adolescent and Student Populations during COVID-19 Pandemic: Review
, National Library of Medicine
Study: Social media use linked to decline in mental health, MIT Management Sloan School
Impact of Social Media on Youth Mental Health: Statistics, Tips & Resources, University of Nevada, Reno
Teens and social media use: What’s the impact?, Mayo Clinic
Reducing social media use significantly improves body image in teens, young adults
, American Psychological Association
Three-minute Legal Talks: Seattle Public Schools’ Lawsuit Against Social Media Companies, School of Law, University of Washington
Seattle public schools sue social media platforms for youth ‘mental health crisis’, The Guardian, January 8, 2023
Pennsylvania County Accuses Tech Giants of Fueling Youth Mental Health Crisis, Bloomberg, March 22, 2023
The truth about teens, social media and the mental health crisis, All Things Consider, NPR, April 25, 2023
Districts Say Social Media Is Hurting Students’ Mental Health. Now They’re Suing, Education Week, April 13, 2023
Gervais School District sues social media giants over youth mental health crisis, Fox 12 Oregon, April 5, 2023
Wrongful death lawsuit filed against social media platforms after suicide of Wisconsin teen
, WMTV, NBC, April 13, 2022
Coronado, Oceanside school districts join others suing social media giants, The Coast News Group, April 14, 2023
Editorial: PPS social media lawsuit a dubious strategy toward a good goal, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 11, 2023
Social genies are out of the bottle, Editorial Board writes. Let’s prepare our kids to handle them, The Salt Lake Tribune, February 5, 2023
Teens carry a threat to mental health in their pockets, The Seattle Times, January 23, 2023
US Schools Start Legal Actions against Social Media Companies
, VOA, Learning English
On Our Minds Podcast Project, Storymaker
Lesson plan: What is mental health? Discuss using this podcast by two teen reporters, PBS Newshour Classroom
What Does It Mean to Live with Social Media, Facing History and Ourselves
Resources for Younger Students:
Social Media and Positive Mental Health, Bristol Healthy Schools