San Mateo County school officials filed a lawsuit this week alleging that three major social media companies — YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat — are designed to be intentionally addictive and that the platforms are contributing to a mental health crisis would have triggered young people.
In the lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the San Mateo County Board of Education and Superintendent Nancy Magee allege the social media giants designed their products to target youth at the expense of their mental health.
The lawsuit alleges that the platforms harm schools, impede education, increase absenteeism and even cause physical damage to school property.
“There is hard science behind the claim that social media is fueling a mental health epidemic in school-age children,” Magee said in a press release.
“Schools deal with the consequences every day, which includes distracted students, increased absenteeism, more children diagnosed with ADHD, cyberbullying spreading into the classroom and even physical harm at our San Mateo schools. An example is the “Devious Lick Challenge” at the beginning of the school year caused by vandalism caused by TikTok,” said Magee.
One of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the school board compared the behavior of the tech companies to that of Big Tobacco on allegations that both industries target and exploit children.
“This case represents one of the most serious problems facing the country’s students – as set out in the complaint, social media companies have unleashed a serious mental health crisis by deploying artificial intelligence algorithms that… aiming to engage children and youth in social media programs are unhealthy ways,” said Joseph Cotchett of the law firm of Cotchett, Pitre and McCarthy.
The lawsuit accuses the platforms of being a public nuisance and, among other things, of being negligent in the design and marketing of their products.
It is also alleged that the companies engaged in racketeering, conspiracy and unfair business practices.
The plaintiffs are demanding that the companies, including Alphabet Inc., XXVI Holdings Inc. and Google LLC — which are affiliated with YouTube — and TikTok owner ByteDance Inc. be held liable for their alleged conduct and ordered “no further action.” seize”. cause or contribute to a public nuisance.”
They are also seeking damages and are requiring the court to “fund preventive education and treatment for excessive and problematic social media use.”
The school board’s decision to file the lawsuit comes as part of an ongoing effort by critics of social media companies to hold them accountable for the perceived harm they inflict on individuals and society at large.
And, as plaintiff’s press release notes, even President Joe Biden called out the platforms “for the experiment they are conducting on our children for profit” during his State of the Union address.
The same companies, along with Facebook and parent company Meta, are facing a similar lawsuit in Seattle. Bucks County in Pennsylvania also filed suit on Tuesday.
“When used for good, social media can be an incredible tool for learning, sharing and communicating,” Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said in a statement on the county’s website.
“Unfortunately, these companies have chosen to pursue childhood addiction as a business model and treat young people’s attention as a commodity,” Weintraub said.
Representatives from the three platforms named in San Mateo County’s lawsuit did not comment directly on the lawsuit itself, but did emphasize the work they are doing to keep their products safe.
“We’ve invested heavily in creating safer experiences for children on our platforms, introducing strong safeguards and dedicated features to prioritize their well-being,” said Google spokesman Jose Castañeda.
“For example, through Family Link, we offer parents the ability to set reminders, limit screen time, and block certain types of content on supervised devices,” Castañeda said.
A Snap spokesperson said the company recently rolled out an in-app tool to help parents better monitor their children’s activities, including running anti-bullying campaigns.
“Nothing is more important to us than the well-being of our community. At Snapchat, we curate content from well-known creators and publishers and use human moderation to review user-generated content before it can reach large audiences, which significantly reduces the spread and detection of malicious content,” a Snap spokesperson said in a statement. “We also work closely with leading mental health organizations to provide in-app tools for Snapchatters and resources to support themselves and their friends. We are constantly evaluating how we continue to make our platform more secure, including through new training, features and safeguards.”
A TikTok spokesman said their platform also has features to protect young people, including parental controls and age restrictions, which restrict messaging and live streams, among other things.