Rising rates of depression, anxiety, and self-harm have raised concerns about social media’s effects on children and adolescents. Harassment and inappropriate content threaten students’ physical and emotional well-being. School districts suing social media companies seek justice and accountability on their students’ behalf. Likewise, the Social Media Victims Law Center supports victims who suffer from social media addiction or cyberbullying.
Millions of American children and teenagers use social media daily, including 95 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds.
Users can message their friends, post photos and videos, or simply scroll through their social media feeds. While these activities may sound safe, studies show that social media use is anything but harmless. As a result, a growing wave of school districts are suing social media companies for their mental health impacts on students.
Every school aims to safeguard students’ health and well-being, and social media has become a common source of anxiety, depression, and trauma. Public school districts are taking a stand by filing lawsuits against the social media platforms that allow and promote damaging activities, from harassment to potentially fatal TikTok challenges.
The Social Media Victims Law Center fights for children and youth suffering from social media addiction or cyberbullying. If your child has experienced physical or emotional distress because of social media, they deserve justice. Learn how schools are approaching social media lawsuits and the ways the Social Media Victims Law Center can support you.
Why Are School Districts Suing Social Media Companies?
Teachers, counselors, and school administrators have witnessed firsthand the effects of social media on children’s mental health. School districts are filing lawsuits in response to these concerning trends.
Effects of Social Media on Children
School leaders’ concerns about social media go far beyond everyday classroom distractions. Children’s physical and mental health also are at stake.
In May 2023, the United States Surgeon General issued an advisory explaining how social media harms children and adolescents’ mental health. The advisory describes several potential sources of harm, including exposure to violent and sexual content, compromised sleep, and diminished in-person social interactions.
Experts also have found other ways that social media hurts children, including:
- Decreased self-confidence: Social media presents children and teenagers with unrealistic representations of daily life. They begin to question their own appearance and accomplishments, which can cause lower self-esteem and eating disorders.
- Poor mental health: When children become dependent on social media, it can affect their mood and disrupt their other activities, including schoolwork and physical exercise. Social media addiction is also known to cause depression and create or worsen anxiety.
- Cyberbullying: Social media makes it easy for children and teenagers to harass one another online without fear of real-life consequences. Cyberbullying can have devastating effects on victims, even if the harassment doesn’t happen in person.
- Suicide and self-harm: The psychological effects of social media can become life-threatening. According to one study, cyberbullying, viral challenges, and social media addiction may increase adolescent suicide rates.
Problematic Behavior by Social Media Companies
Social media threatens users’ health and safety, but that’s not the only reason school districts seek to hold companies accountable. They also argue that these businesses put children directly in harm’s way by:
- Targeting children to use their products even though they are an especially vulnerable demographic
- Intentionally making social media addictive so children will use it compulsively
- Encouraging and promoting dangerous challenges and trends
- Creating and spreading content that features child sexual exploitation and abuse
These actions indicate that social media companies are not only aware of their actions but also responsible for many of the negative effects children experience.
Which Social Media Companies Are Facing Lawsuits?
Schools have filed claims against many of the most popular platforms in the world, including:
Current Lawsuits Against Social Media Companies
Since early 2023, hundreds of school districts have taken legal steps against social media companies. On January 6th, Seattle Public Schools became one of the first districts to file a suit against social media companies, including Meta and Bytedance, the parent companies of Facebook and TikTok, respectively. On its website, the district explains that its goal is not to eliminate social media but to force the platform owners to do more to protect young people.
On the heels of this suit, other school districts in Washington and nationwide filed similar claims. These are just a few of the many noteworthy cases from across the country:
- In South Carolina, the Charleston County School District filed a suit alleging that social media companies are causing a mental health crisis among children.
- In Maryland, the Anne Arundel County Public Schools system is one of eight districts in the state suing social media companies for placing children at risk.
- In California, more than 500 districts joined together to file a suit claiming that social media companies knowingly cause emotional harm to children.
- In Florida, Bay District Schools recently joined a class-action suit alleging that teenagers have suffered from mental health effects from social media addiction.
While these lawsuits fall in different jurisdictions and make slightly varied claims, they all argue that children and adolescents are suffering from social media use and that social media companies aren’t doing enough to protect their youngest users.
School Policies Protecting Students From Social Media
In addition to taking legal action, schools also are working internally to protect students. They’ve done so by creating social media policies, such as:
- Blocking students from using social media on school-issued devices
- Banning social media use on any devices while students are at school
- Monitoring social media posts for threatening content or cyberbullying behavior
- Prohibiting students from tagging posts, pictures, or videos without permission from teachers or other students
Students who violate these policies often face the same discipline as they would for other in-school behavior issues. For example, if a teacher discovers that a student has been bullying a classmate on social media, the school might suspend the student.
Many school districts’ social media policies extend beyond student behavior and apply to teachers and staff. For instance, schools often prohibit teachers from accepting friend requests from current or former students under 13. Some also require that teachers avoid communicating over social media and limit their interactions with parents to email or school-approved educational apps.
Seeking Help for Students Harmed by Social Media
Social media is everywhere and is especially dominant in young people’s lives. Parents, teachers, and other adults might feel helpless against powerful social media companies, but school districts are proving it’s possible to push back against their dangerous practices.
Schools aren’t the only entities that can sue social media platforms. You also have a right to speak out and seek justice on your loved ones’ behalf. If your child has become addicted to social media or has harmed themselves due to cyberbullying, contact the Social Media Victims Law Center for a free case evaluation.