The Impact of
Social Media

As social media has become part of everyday life, teens in particular spend more and more time on their phones. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that 45 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds are online “almost constantly” and 97 percent use a social media platform such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or YouTube. Since 2018, these trends have only accelerated with TikTok becoming one of the most popular apps used by teens in the United States. Of course the Covid-19 pandemic has only increased the time spent on our phones, computers, and tablets.

Unfortunately, the rise of social media applications or “apps” has coincided with a tragic increase in teen depression and self-harm, including suicide. A 2019 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report revealed that suicide rates had increased a shocking 56 percent in the 10-24 age group between 2007 and 2017. The rates for younger individuals 10-14 nearly tripled over that same period and suicides amongst kids 15 to 19 were up 76 percent. Studies involving thousands of children have linked social media use to poor mental health, including sleeping disorders, depression, anxiety, and body dysmorphia, such as eating disorders. One 2019 study in England found that using social media more than 3 hours per day was associated with poor mental health and well-being in teens 13 to 16 years old. Another study found a heightened risk of mental problems amongst U.S. teens aged 12 to 15 who used social media more than three hours per day. Other studies have linked extensive passive use or “scrolling” on social media apps with poor mental health.

While social media platforms have made it difficult or impossible for researchers and public health agencies to study the effects upon teen users, internal documents leaked in 2021 provide clues as to the widespread damages these products cause. Surveys conducted by Facebook reported that 6 percent of U.S. teens and 13 percent of U.K. teens traced their suicidal thoughts back to Instagram. Other problems included the inability of teen users to stop using the apps, negative effects on mental health, body image, and increased anxiety. One 2019 slide presentation from the company’s own data was even titled “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.” Scrutiny surrounding the leaks caused Facebook to “pause” its plans to launch a separate Instagram for Kids app, which many mental health professionals had opposed.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has had many negative effects, but one has been an increased amount of time on phones, including on social media. This increased use has not helped teens’ mental health. Initial data from May 2020 has suggested emergency department admissions for teen suicide attempts increased 31 percent compared with a year prior.

There is no doubt social media has some benefits as a form of communication and community building. But social media companies are well-aware that their products are designed to trigger addictive and problematic use. This is particularly true for vulnerable teen users. Rather than limit the harmful aspects of their products, social media companies strive to get users to spend as much time as possible on their platforms because that’s what drives advertising dollars and profit. Social media never warned parents of these harms, sought to make their products safer, or provided parents with access to the tools that would have allowed them to monitor and protect their children from the hidden risks lurking in their products.

Litigation certainly cannot protect our children from every bump or bruise. It is also true that manufactures who continue to market dangerous products to children will continue to do harm until someone holds them accountable. Social media companies who reap billions of dollars per year in profit should not be able to turn a blind eye to the tragic harm caused by their products and get away with it.

If your child or young family member has suffered from serious depression, chronic eating disorder, hospitalization, sexual exploitation, self-harm, or suicide as a result of their social media use, speak to us today for a no-cost legal consultation.