Social Media Addiction Lawsuits Continue in California Courts

a person using social media on their phone

Hundreds of families and school districts in California have filed social media lawsuits against Meta, TikTok, Snap, and Google on behalf of children who were harmed after extensively using the platforms. A growing body of scientific evidence confirms that rampant problematic social media use is largely responsible for the unprecedented mental health crisis in today’s youth. These cases have been consolidated under the Superior Court of Los Angeles County in what is known as JCCP Hearings.

California parents and school districts are demanding justice through social media addiction lawsuits. Due to the large number of claims and the similarity of the allegations, these cases are being heard in the JCCP.

What Are the JCCP Hearings on Social Media?

When the court system in California receives a large number of lawsuits that allege similar facts against the same defendants, plaintiffs have a right to request to consolidate their claims before a single court. Hearings in these types of claims are known as Judicial Counsel Coordination Proceedings, or JCCP. 

The social media JCCP hearings were consolidated in the Superior Court of Los Angeles in 2022 and assigned to Judge Carolyn Kuhl. As of October of 2023, these proceedings included 350 cases filed by families and 250 cases filed by school districts throughout California. They include claims against the following platforms:

The social media companies filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss the lawsuits because they believe they should be immune from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the First Amendment. Section 230 gives online publishers liability protection for content posted by third parties. 

Social media companies have been able to hide behind Section 230 for decades, but plaintiffs in the JCCP hearings are asking the court to hold social media companies liable for the way their products are designed, not for the content users post. The allegations in the lawsuits include the following:

  • Strict liability for defective product design
  • Strict liability for failure to warn
  • Negligence
  • Negligent undertaking
  • Fraudulent concealment and misrepresentation against Meta only

Strict liability claims are based on product liability law, which holds manufacturers of defective products liable for harm if their products were defective or they failed to warn, regardless of whether they were negligent. In the October 13, 2023 ruling, Judge Kuhl ruled that social media platforms are not products and dismissed these claims.

However, the court is allowing the negligence and fraudulent concealment claims to proceed, stating explicitly that neither Section 230 nor the First Amendment bars these claims because they are related to the function of the platforms and social media addiction rather than exposure to the content.

A similar proceeding involving more than 400 social media addiction lawsuits filed nationwide is taking place in the federal court in the Northern District of California, where the proceedings are known as multidistrict litigation. Judge Kuhl’s rulings are consistent with the rulings in that litigation.

How Are the Lawsuits Filed Against Social Media Companies in the JCCP Hearing Different from Lawsuits Filed in the Past?

Social media addiction litigation has created unlikely alliances due to the universal nature of the harm. The mental health effects of social media addiction are severe and widespread. Nearly everyone knows someone who is adversely affected. 

As many as 42 attorneys general and hundreds of school districts nationwide have filed suit against social media companies. 

Bipartisan efforts in the United States Congress to hold social media companies accountable have led to hearings in which high-level executives like Facebook CEO Marc Zuckerberg and Instagram CEO Adam Moseri faced difficult questions. 

Even the Surgeon General of the United States has weighed in, advising all Americans to take immediate action.

What Concerns Led to Bipartisan Support in Filing the Lawsuits?

In 2021, former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen made the public aware that Facebook knowingly jeopardizes the safety of its young users to maximize profits. This sparked a public outcry and provided answers to distressed parents who had long wondered what was happening to their children.

Social media platforms profit through advertising. The more time users spend on the apps, the more ads they see, and the more revenue social media companies generate. This incentivizes them to lure users to their platforms as often as possible and keep them there for as long as possible.

While on the platforms, young users view negative content that promotes the following:

Essentially, social media companies are treating children like cash cows at the expense of their safety and well-being.

How Are Social Media Companies Being Held Accountable?

The most recent rulings in the JCCP allow the social media companies to be held accountable for fraudulently concealing the known risks of using social media and negligence involving the following conduct:

  • Failure to exercise reasonable care to prevent children from being harmed by their product
  • Developing and using algorithms and features that unreasonably lure youth to use their platforms excessively
  • Being able to foresee that their platforms have a high probability of harm through addiction but continuing to encourage problematic use

How Important Is the Decision To Let Litigation Proceed Against Social Media Companies?

Social media companies have demonstrated that they will continue to use algorithms that harm children as long as there are no consequences. The court has removed a significant barrier to justice that could finally compensate injured children and their parents while incentivizing social media companies to make their platforms safer.

What Manipulative Features Used by Social Media Companies Were Mentioned in the Lawsuits?

The primary theme common to all of the lawsuits is that social media companies incorporate harmful features into their apps that exploit young people’s immature brain development for financial gain while failing to incorporate safety features.

Intermittent Variable Rewards

Intermittent variable rewards are events that are strategically scheduled at unpredictable times to maximize dopamine release and make an activity irresistible. On social media, these events include notifications of likes, hearts, and shares. The social media companies have incorporated intermittent variable rewards into all of their apps and maximize their effects through the following practices: 

  • Withholding rewards at times, then releasing them on a carefully orchestrated schedule to maximize user response and increase cravings for more
  • Connecting rewards to users’ actions, similar to how slot machines work

This system takes advantage of adolescents’ undeveloped prefrontal cortex, which predisposes them to higher dopamine responses on social media due to social anxiety and a heightened need for social validation.

Filtering Software

Once youth are lured onto the apps, social media companies take advantage of the heightened vulnerabilities common to youth by promoting unhealthy beauty and social comparisons. 

Filtering software is incorporated into most social media apps. It allows users to remove blemishes, make themselves appear thinner, change their skin tone, and more.

Teens are already prone to comparing themselves to celebrities, influencers, and each other. When they compare their real-life appearance to other people’s idealized images, they almost always end up with an unfavorable view of self.

Lack of Safety Features

Social media companies have failed to test their products for safety. On the few occasions when they have tested, they have failed to take steps to remediate the safety problems they find. They could have included such safety features as the following to mitigate harm:

  • Age verification requirements to prove users are 13 or older
  • Effective parental controls
  • Mechanisms to self-restrict the time and frequency of use
  • Tools to prevent child exploitation

Social media companies didn’t forget to include safety features. They intentionally left them out because young people have more free time than adults and thus more time to spend on their apps. This makes youth their biggest source of revenue. Safety features could result in youth spending less time on the apps, which would reduce revenue.

The JCCP plaintiffs allege that social media apps are intentionally designed to make it hard for parents to monitor or control their children’s use. Children can establish multiple accounts without their parents’ knowledge. 

For example, Snapchat has a private “for my eyes only” feature that parents cannot access, and even Snap claims to be unable to access it.

What Teen Mental Health Issues Does the Lawsuit Allege the Manipulative Features Caused?

The lawsuits in the JCCP allege that negative self-comparisons on social media may lead to the following mental health effects:

Adolescents who develop social media addiction may experience the following additional mental health effects, according to the lawsuits:

Who Is Eligible To Participate in the Lawsuits?

You may be eligible to file a social media lawsuit on your behalf or on behalf of your child if you or your child was born after the year 2000 and experienced physical or mental injuries from social media addiction after 2012. Eligibility will vary depending on the specific details of your case. The only way to be certain if you are eligible is to speak with a knowledgeable social media addiction lawyer.

Current Lawsuits Filed by the Social Media Victims Law Center

We are involved in a large number of lawsuits at the Social Media Victims Law Center, including cases being heard in the JCCP and the federal MDL. Our current litigation includes the following:

  • C.U. and S.U. v. Meta Platforms, et al – A case against Roblox, Discord, Snapchat, and Meta for the sexual exploitation of a young California girl who developed severe mental health effects and attempted suicide multiple times
  • Donna Dawley vs. Meta Platforms, Inc., and Snap, Inc. – A case filed by the parents of CJ Dawley, who developed social media addiction to Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, resulting in body image dysmorphia, sleep deprivation, and ultimately, his suicide
  • Snapchat fentanyl lawsuits – Multiple lawsuits in at least 11 states against Snapchat for fentanyl overdose deaths of young people who were able to purchase drugs online because Snapchat’s privacy features allowed drug users to solicit them without being detected by law enforcement

Contact the Social Media Victim Law Center for a Free Case Evaluation

If you or your child has been harmed by social media, we are ready to confront the powerful companies that caused the harm and pursue financial compensation for you and your child. We are on a mission to stop social media’s abuse of our children through civil litigation and changes in public policy. 

There is no upfront cost to work with our attorneys, and you will never owe us anything unless we recover compensation for you. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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