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Seattle district sues social media companies, accusing them of contributing to youth mental health crisis

Jan. 9, 2023
The suit names the companies operating TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat as defendants.

The Seattle school district has filed a federal lawsuit accusing TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat of contributing to a youth mental health crisis.

The Seattle Times reports that the 90-page lawsuit contends that the social media companies intentionally market, design and operate their platforms to maximize engagement from young users for profit and cites research linking social media use to mental and behavioral disorders such as anxiety, depression, disordered eating and cyberbullying.

“This mental health crisis is...the result of the defendants’ deliberate choices and affirmative actions to design and market their social media platforms to attract youth,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit argues the tech companies have violated Washington state’s public nuisance law.

The school district asserts that it has had to “divert resources and expend additional resources” to hire counselors, train teachers to recognize mental health issues, and educate students on the dangers of social media platforms, among other measures.

The district also cited an “on-average” 30% increase in the number of its students who reported feeling “so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row” that they stopped usual activities between 2009 and 2019.

“Our students — and young people everywhere — face unprecedented learning and life struggles that are amplified by the negative impacts of increased screen time, unfiltered content, and potentially addictive properties of social media,” said Seattle School Superintendent Brent Jones.

In a written statement, a Snapchat spokesperson said the app was designed “without some of the public pressure and social comparison features of traditional social media platforms.”

Between school closures and isolation during the pandemic, Washington officials have sounded the alarm on youth mental health; Gov. Jay Inslee declared the situation a crisis last year. The total number of hospitalizations in Washington where the primary diagnosis is psychiatric doubled between 2015 and 2021.

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