Three Alabama school districts suing social media companies

Three Alabama school districts including Tuscaloosa city schools are suing Meta, the parent...
Three Alabama school districts including Tuscaloosa city schools are suing Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat claiming the social media companies are contributing to the youth mental health crisis.(WBRC)
Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 12:09 AM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Three Alabama school districts, including Tuscaloosa City Schools, are suing Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat, claiming the social media companies are contributing to the youth mental health crisis.

“We are bringing these lawsuits due to the mental health crisis that these social media companies, products have caused students which has then bled into these districts,” Davis Vaughn, an attorney with Beasley Allen law firm said.

Vaughn says the school districts are having to help provide mental health resources to their students as a result of being addicted among other things to social media.

“It’s addictiveness. It’s design and unfortunately the schools have been left to front a lot of the costs and expenses of the youth mental crisis caused by these social media companies,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn claims social media companies have known about this for years. He points to the 2021 testimony of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen who said Facebook knew that its product was harming youth, particularly young female girls, claiming it was causing anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

“These products lack appropriate safeguards. They lack appropriate age verification measures. They lack parental controls and when used to the point of addiction, they are incredibly harmful on our youth,” Vaughn said.

Baldwin County and Montgomery Public Schools also filed lawsuits. We’re told the school districts in the state are among the first to file these type lawsuits against social media companies. The lawsuits are filed in California state court.

We got this statement from Tuscaloosa City Schools:

A number of research studies have shown the widespread effects that social media have on children and youth—including mental health issues like addiction, depression, and even suicide. The effects are being felt by families and school systems across the country, as well as in Alabama. The Tuscaloosa City Schools has joined in a lawsuit against Meta, TikTok, YouTube, and Snapchat, for exploiting young people for profit and employing addictive, psychological tactics while failing to protect young users, including our students.

“The Tuscaloosa City Schools, much like other school systems across the U.S., have witnessed the mental health crisis that is occurring in our youth,” said TCS Superintendent Dr. Mike Daria. “We have increased our funding for mental health resources to meet these demands, including hiring more school counselors, hiring a mental health coordinator, and increasing training and communications when it comes to the needs of our students’ mental health. But all that comes at a cost. And ultimately, it is today’s youth that is paying the ultimate price.”

There is no expense to the TCS associated with this lawsuit unless there is a financial recovery, in which case a percentage of the recovery will be paid to the attorneys.

Here’s the full statement we received from Meta in response to the lawsuits:

“We want to reassure every parent that we have their interests at heart in the work we’re doing to provide teens with safe, supportive experiences online. We’ve developed more than 30 tools to support teens and their families, including tools that allow parents to decide when, and for how long, their teens use Instagram, age verification technology, automatically setting accounts belonging to those under 16 to private when they join Instagram, and sending notifications encouraging teens to take regular breaks. We’ve invested in technology that finds and removes content related to suicide, self-injury or eating disorders before anyone reports it to us. These are complex issues, but we will continue working with parents, experts and regulators such as the state attorneys general to develop new tools, features and policies that meet the needs of teens and their families.” - Antigone Davis, Head of Safety, Meta

We also received this statement from SnapChat:

“Nothing is more important to us than the wellbeing of our community. At Snapchat, we curate content from known creators and publishers and use human moderation to review user generated content before it can reach a large audience, which greatly reduces the spread and discovery of harmful content. We also work closely with leading mental health organizations to provide in-app tools for Snapchatters and resources to help support both themselves and their friends. We are constantly evaluating how we continue to make our platform safer, including through new education, features and protections.”

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