Seattle Public Schools recently have filed a lawsuit against social media heavyweights TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, Snap Inc., Instagram, and their parent companies, claiming financial and operational harm have been caused by its students’ social media usage.
According to the suit, “[the 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.”
Both social media companies and web browsers have been subject to much scrutiny in recent years for the way their algorithms are seen to reinforce unhealthy practices and ideologies. For instance, in 2018, Google’s search engine was shown by Time magazine to demonstrate anti-Black bias across several of its search features.
Later, in 2021, former Facebook employee turned whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed the company's methods of prioritizing its pushing of content to users. Haugen released internal documents showing how Meta Platforms (Facebook’s parent company) would push potentially-damaging content based on its likelihood of inspiring users to click on it, while acknowledging that a great deal of that damage is inflicted on children and teen users of social media.
The lawsuit brought by Seattle Public Schools was prompted primarily by a violent threat against schools that went viral on social media in December 2022, causing the school district — along with many others — to operate on high-security alert, along with local law enforcement. But violent and dangerous risk-taking trends are not the only problematic social media subjects that are increasingly raising concerns with parents and educators. Other posts promoting such dangers to children as eating disorders, self-harm, and suicide have also come under fire and inspired a number of lawsuits.
Now that a suit has been filed by a major school district rather than by individual parents, the problem may finally be shifted onto a more public platform.
This type of in-depth scrutiny is nothing new for some social media platforms, however. Particularly TikTok, which is already encountering rare bipartisan support for its banning in the United States entirely, unless it is able to come to an agreement with the Biden administration on where it stores its U.S.-based data.