Social Media Victims Law Center Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Meta Platforms, Inc. and Snap, Inc. in Suicide of 17-Year-Old Christopher J. Dawle
The complaint seeks to hold Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat accountable for their failure to protect users from its addictive nature, cyberbullying and sexual exploitation
MILWAUKEE – April 12, 2022 – Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), a legal resource for parents of teenage victims suffering from depression, an eating disorder, hospitalization, sexual exploitation, self-harm or suicide as a result of social media addiction, today announced it has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Meta Platforms, Inc. and Snap, Inc. to hold each accountable for the suicide death of Christopher J. “CJ” Dawley, 17, of Salem, WI., on January 4, 2015.
The lawsuit alleges that Meta Platforms and Snap knowingly and purposefully designed, manufactured, marketed and sold social media products that were unreasonably dangerous because they were designed to be addictive to minor users despite knowledge that the foreseeable use of these social media products causes mental and physical harm to minor users.
“Congressional testimony has shown that both Meta Platforms and Snapchat were aware of the addictive nature of their products and failed to protect minors in the name of more clicks and additional revenue,” said Matthew P. Bergman, founder of SMVLC. “We are calling on the parent companies of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to prioritize the health and wellness of its users by implementing safeguards to protect minors from the danger of cyberbullying and sexual exploitation that run rampant on their platforms.”
These safeguards include verifying minor users’ age and identity; providing adequate parental controls and monitoring; protecting minor users from intentionally being directed to harmful and exploitive content; offering protection for minors from being sexually exploited and abused; designing non-addictive social media products; and providing adequate notification to parents about the dangerous and problematic usage of social media by minors.
Donna Dawley vs. Meta Platforms, Inc. and Snap, Inc.
By all outward appearances, CJ was a typical teenager. He was a member of his church and worked as a busboy at a local restaurant; was enrolled in Advanced Placement and Honors courses; loved woods and metal classes; and was admitted to college in December 2014. He enjoyed recreational activities like golfing, volleyball, riding his ATV, snowmobiling, tubing, camping and the outdoors. But his greatest loves were his car, his tractor and fixing and taking things apart.
CJ joined Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat in 2012. Just two years later, CJ had developed an addiction to Meta Platforms’ social media applications, communicating through social media at all hours of the night—often until 3 am on school nights—resulting in sleep deprivation, an increased obsession with his body image and exchanging explicit photographs with other users.
In December 2014, CJ developed a pain in his legs which led him to believe his body was permanently deficient. He never showed any outward signs of depression or mental injury, but on January 4, 2015, he retreated to his room while his family cleaned up Christmas decorations, sent his best friend a text message saying, “God speed,” posted “Who turned out the light?” on his Facebook page and wrote a note to his family on the envelope to his college acceptance letter saying goodbye. He then held a 22-caliber rifle in one hand, his smartphone in the other and shot himself. CJ’s family thought he was sleeping and didn’t discover his body until five hours later when his sister found he had died by suicide.
CJ’s parents, Chris and Donna Dawley, understand that suing the most wealthy and powerful corporations in the world will be risky, difficult and painful and that no amount of money could ever compensate them for the loss their family sustained. Nevertheless, Mr. Dawley explained: “If our effort to hold these companies responsible for exposing kids to their deadly products prevents even one family from experiencing the pain that our family has suffered by CJ’s loss, our struggle will have been worthwhile.”
This is the second wrongful death lawsuit that SMVLC has filed against Meta Platforms and Snap. On January 21, 2022, SMVLC filed a lawsuit against these social media companies for the suicide death of 11-year-old Selena Rodriguez of Enfield, Conn., on July 21, 2021.
The case is Dawley v. Meta Platforms Inc., 22-cv-00444, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin.
For anyone experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please call 9-11 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Victims of social media cyberbullying can contact SMVLC at socialmediavictims.org, or by calling 1-800-834-6994.
About the Social Media Victims Law Center
The Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC), socialmediavictims.org, was founded in 2021 to hold social media companies legally accountable for the harm they inflict on vulnerable users. SMVLC seeks to apply principles of product liability to force social media companies to elevate consumer safety to the forefront of its economic analysis and design safer platforms to protect users from foreseeable harm.
About Matthew P. Bergman
Matthew P. Bergman is an attorney, law professor, philanthropist, and community activist who has recovered over $1 billion on behalf of his clients. He is the founder of the Social Media Victims Law Center and Bergman Draper Oslund Udo law firm; a professor at Lewis & Clark Law School and serves on the board of directors of nonprofit institutions in higher education, national security, civil rights, worker protection, and the arts.
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.