Seattle Public School District Sues Big Tech Over Mental Health ‘Crisis’ Among Youth
Francesco Carta fotografo/Getty Images

Seattle Public School District officials filed a lawsuit Friday against social media platform owners, including Facebook, TikTok, and others, for allegedly intentionally cultivating and creating a mental health crisis among the youth.

Plaintiffs filed the 91-page-lawsuit in a U.S. District Court arguing that the platforms, which also include Google, Snapchat, and YouTube, have caused a public nuisance effecting Seattle Public Schools.

“Defendants have successfully exploited the vulnerable brains of youth, hooking tens of millions of students across the country into positive feedback loops of excessive use and abuse of Defendants’ social media platforms,” the lawsuit reads. “Worse, the content Defendants curate and direct to youth is too often harmful and exploitive.”

Such content the lawsuit alleges social media companies promote includes a ‘corpse bride’ diet, eating 300 calories a day, or encouraging self-harm. Other mental health harms the lawsuit accuses big tech of cultivating among the youth include anxiety, cyberbullying, and suicide.

The lawsuit argues that students experiencing mental health issues perform worse in school and are less likely to attend class while engaging in substance use, which “directly affects Seattle Public School’s ability to fulfill its educational mission.”

Seattle Public School District claims that approximately 30% of students reported feeling sad or hopeless for more than two weeks between 2009 to 2019, which caused them to stop engaging in some typical activities.

District officials further argued in the lawsuit that the state of children’s mental health led the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association to declare a national emergency and the U.S. Surgeon General to issue an advisory “to highlight the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis.”

President Joe Biden drew attention to social media platforms in his 2022 State of the Union Address, alleging the harm social media has wrought on American youth should implore all to “hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit.”

District Superintendent Brent Jones told The Daily Mail in a statement that “it has become increasingly clear that many children are burdened by mental health challenges.”

“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,” Jones said.

Other public school officials said according to Insider Paper they are “holding social media companies accountable for the harm they have wreaked on the social, emotional, and mental health” of students.

“The increase in suicides, attempted suicides, and mental-health related emergency room visits is no coincidence,” a statement said.

José Castañeda, a spokesperson for Google, which owns YouTube, told The Daily Mail the tech giant gives parents tools to limit screen time for their children and prevent certain types of content on their devices.

“We have invested heavily in creating safe experiences for children across our platforms and have introduced strong protections and dedicated features to prioritize their well being,” Castañeda said.

District officials said they anticipate that defendants will raise section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides immunity from liability in certain cases, as a shield for their conduct. However, the plaintiffs argue the law does not protect the “Defendants’ own acts in designing, marketing, and operating social media platforms that are harmful to youth.”

“Plaintiff is not alleging Defendants are liable for what third-parties have said on Defendants’ platforms but, rather, for Defendants’ own conduct,” the lawsuit reads. “Defendants affirmatively recommend and promote harmful content to youth, such as pro-anorexia and eating disorder content.”

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