Montgomery County Public Schools is suing big tech companies in federal court, joining hundreds of other school districts in a legal battle over youth mental health, accusing the social media companies of profiting from vulnerable children, causing them to be depressed, commit violence, or self harm.
James Frantz of Frantz Law Group is filing on behalf of dozens of districts — anticipating that within the next month there will be more than 1,000 school districts involved in the litigation from at least 35 states.
The cases are being consolidated in the Northern District of California under Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, an Obama appointee. The litigation aims to hold big tech liable for using algorithms that target youth, which the lawsuit alleges are “intentionally and deliberately designed to exploit and cause minors to become addicted, which has caused the harm.”
“It is a travesty what has happened and these social media companies won’t take it upon themselves to regulate themselves,” Mr. Frantz told The Washington Times.
The 107-page complaint filed Wednesday on behalf of Montgomery County Public Schools, which has more than 160,000 students, charges that Meta; Instagram; Snap, Inc.; TikTok; Bytedance; Alphabet; Google; YouTube and WhatsApp should be held accountable under federal law for negligence and conspiracy to cause minors harm.
It also charges that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields internet companies from legal liabilities for content posted by third parties, shouldn’t be an escape from accountability for the tech giants because the companies know of the harm and do not censor the damaging content.
“Defendants have successfully exploited the vulnerable brains of minors, causing millions of students across the United States, including in Plaintiffs’ district, to become addicted to and excessively using Defendants’ social media platforms. Furthermore, the content Defendants direct to minors is many times harmful and [exploitative] (e.g., instigating vandalism, eating disorders, or encouraging self-harm),” the lawsuit stated.
It continued: “Defendants’ misconduct is a substantial factor resulting in a youth mental health crisis, which has been marked by increasingly higher proportions of minors struggling with anxiety, depression, thoughts of self-harm, and suicidal ideation.”
The Supreme Court had two cases this term challenging the liability of tech companies — including an opportunity to chip away at Section 230 — but the court bucked the opportunity, leaving the protections intact for now.
Lawsuits from school districts against the tech companies began earlier this year and have been piling on, so the federal cases are being consolidated under one judge for further proceedings.
A spokesperson from Meta, the named plaintiff in the Montgomery County case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, said in a Facebook post in 2021 that his company doesn’t push content on users to induce a response.
“The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical,” he wrote at the time.
A report earlier this year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that teen girls are experiencing increased sadness and violence.
“In 2021, 16% of high school students were electronically bullied, including through texting, Instagram, Facebook, or other social media, during the past year. Female students were more likely than male students to be electronically bullied,” the report read.
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