Jan 9 2023
The Seattle school district has filed a groundbreaking lawsuit against major tech companies, including Alphabet Inc., Meta Platforms Inc., Snap Inc., and ByteDance Ltd. (the owner of TikTok), blaming them for hooking young people on their platforms and creating a mental health crisis. The school district, which includes over 100 schools and serves around 50,000 children, claims that it is unable to fulfill its educational mission due to students suffering from anxiety, depression, and other psychological problems. This lawsuit is reportedly the first of its kind in the US brought by a school district, following similar claims filed last year by many families, including over a dozen blaming tech companies for suicides.
The notion that social media companies bear responsibility for the potential harm caused by their products to young people gained traction in 2021 when former Meta employee Frances Haugen disclosed documents about the company's internal operations. Haugen claimed, among other things, that the company was intentionally targeting vulnerable young people to increase profits. This led to Congressional hearings and investigations by some state attorneys general.
The companies being sued have typically relied on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a 1996 federal statute granting internet platforms broad immunity from claims regarding harmful content posted by users, as their main line of defense. This law has been so effective in protecting them from legal action that both political parties have called for its reform.
The Seattle school district is requesting that a judge find the tech companies guilty of creating a public nuisance and order remedies including monetary damages and funding for the prevention and treatment of excessive use of social media. The district claims that it has seen a significant increase in suicides and emergency room mental health visits, and cites President Joe Biden's 2022 State of the Union address, in which he called on everyone to "hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they're conducting on our children for profit." The school district states that it is "bringing this action to do just that."