The impact of social media on kids is again under sharp scrutiny.
State and federal officials are investigating whether children and teens are more vulnerable to social media addiction and messaging that promotes dangerous habits such as self harm and disordered eating.
Now, schools are ringing alarm bells.
Seattle Public Schools on Friday filed a 91-page lawsuit against the companies behind TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube in a federal district court.
The public school district alleges that students are being recommended harmful content online, exacerbating a mental health crisis, and social media companies are allowing it to happen.
Here’s what you need to know about the lawsuit.
The school system accuses social media platforms of increasing students’ anxiety and depression
Seattle Public Schools alleges that the very design of these platforms, which seek to maximize the amount of time users spend on them, is flawed and dangerous–particularly to kids.
They argue that the longer people stay on social media, the more ads those companies sell and thus the more money they stand to make. And some features, such as push notifications, are designed to draw users in, making it hard to ignore, especially for kids, the school district alleges.
It also references studies that suggest teens who spend a lot of time using screens are more likely to receive diagnoses of depression or anxiety, encounter cyber bullying and not get enough sleep.
According to the lawsuit, social media companies have “exploited the vulnerable brains of youth, hooking tens of millions of students across the country into positive feedback loops of excessive use and abuse.”
The lawsuit cites a 2021 investigation by the Wall Street Journal, in which several teenage girls reported developing eating disorders or relapsing after TikTok promoted extreme diet videos to them.
The issue of potentially dangerous content on social media is not a new one.
As NPR reported in 2021, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former product manager, testified before Congress, saying that executives hid research about the risks the company’s products posed to kids.
Since then, Meta, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, has ramped up safety features for teens, including efforts to prevent unwanted contact from adults, tools that let parents limit the amount of time their children spend on Instagram and age-verification technology.
“We want teens to be safe online,” Meta Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis told NPR in an email. “We don’t allow content that promotes suicide, self-harm or eating disorders, and of the content we remove or take action on, we identify over 99% of it before it’s reported to us.”
She did not comment directly on the Seattle public schools’ lawsuit.
Jose Castenada, a Google spokesperson, said that the company, which owns YouTube, has “introduced strong protections and dedicated features to prioritize their well being.” He also did not comment directly on the lawsuit.