Social Media Lawsuit

Social media really took off in the early 2000s, and today, social media platforms have billions of daily users around the world. While platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have their benefits, many are seeing some major downsides that come with using these platforms. This is especially true for young social media users who have grown up with access to social media throughout their childhoods. Several parents have filed lawsuits claiming that social media giants design their platforms to be addicting and exploit developing children. Plaintiffs allege social medial algorithms are harmful to the mental health of the country’s youth.

Laws regulating how social media corporations operate were enacted when these platforms were in their infancy. Several lawmakers, parents, and communities have expressed their concern regarding youth mental health and its relationship to social media use. The lawsuits aim to provide compensation to parents whose children were harmed through social media use and instigate a change in laws to help further protect children while using social media.

Social Media Lawsuit Updates

Is there a social media lawsuit?

Yes. Hundreds of parents have filed social media lawsuits claiming that companies knew of the harmful effects of their products on teens and children but failed to warn consumers. Plaintiffs in these social media lawsuits also claim social media platforms create algorithms that promote behaviors that can lead to mental health disorders. Allegedly, extensive social media use by young children escalates their feelings of dissatisfaction with life. Some youth report using social media almost constantly, and although teens frequently report feeling worse when using social media, they claim they can’t stop because they feel anxious when they are not engaged.

It is suggested that social media companies put profits over the safety of their users, namely children and teens. Although social media use is supposed to be restricted to those 13 years of age and older, as much as 40% of children between the ages of 8 and 12 report using social media. This has also led to claims that parental controls for social media platforms are defective, allowing young children to spend more time looking at their feeds and providing access to features and content that may be inappropriate for their age range and maturity level.

An early case, filed by the parents of Alexis Spence in the northern district of California, alleges that Meta — the parent company of Facebook and Instagram — pushed content on their daughter which led to her developing an eating disorder at the age of 12. In an interview, Alexis stated that she was easily able to get around age verification and created an Instagram account without her parent’s knowledge. After searching for fitness content, Alexis began to see suggestions for following content related to diets, which was soon followed by recommendations for content related to eating disorders.

Meta claims that it doesn’t allow content that promotes self-harm, suicide, or eating disorders. But this leaves plaintiffs wondering how this content appears in their children’s social media feeds. Many are questioning how harmful content is able to reach their children when social media platforms claim they put the safety of their users first. A whistleblower from Meta recently presented papers that show the company had at least some knowledge of the harm that content on the platform was causing young people. This information will be huge in settling these cases.

A recent and noteworthy case to be filed against tech giants Meta, Snap, Google, and ByteDance — the parent company of TikTok — comes from a school district in Seattle. The lawsuit is making a public nuisance claim against the social media companies. The school district has experienced an unprecedented number of children and teens requiring mental health services, which they claim is related to social media use and addiction issues that resemble addiction to cigarettes and other harmful substances.

This addiction has led to mental health disorders and treating them has put undue strain on the community financially because of the increase in mental health-related emergency room visits and other services these young people require. The Seattle school district is seeking compensation for damages as well as changes in laws to help better regulate social media when it comes to children and teens.

Since the Seattle school district filed its case, at least nine others have followed suit. These social media cases are filed in:

  • Arizona.
  • California.
  • New Jersey.
  • Oregon.
  • Pennsylvania.
  • Washington.

Perhaps because of these lawsuits or the recent research linking social media use to a number of mental health problems in teens and children, there have been a few states enacting laws that attempt to protect children who use social media. Utah shuts down teen accounts from 10:30 p.m. until 6 a.m., while other states are requiring stricter age-verification requirements for teens to create an account.

Social media linked to various symptoms

Recent lawsuits against social media giants like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube claim that social media platforms use deceptive methods to keep people on their services as long as possible and that some of these methods are detrimental to the mental health of those under 18. Allegedly, extended use of social media platforms by adolescents is linked to symptoms such as:

  • Depression.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Suicidal ideation.
  • Anxiety.
  • Body dysmorphia.
  • Low self-esteem.

These symptoms are amplified in young girls but affect young males who frequently use social media platforms as well. Adults are susceptible to social media addiction, but a child’s developing brain is not able to exhibit self-control at the same level as an adult.

School districts filing public nuisance claims have expressed concern over increasing rates of ER visits from youth who are suffering from mental health issues. They also report that fighting, absenteeism, classroom disruptions, and tardiness are all up. Many studies have shown a link between social media use and mental health problems, and parents and communities want social media companies to be held accountable for their role.

Social Media Use and Its Connection to Mental Health: A Systematic Review

In the Social Media Use and Its Connection to Mental Health: A Systematic Review study, researchers looked at 16 published documents on social media and mental health. The goal was to determine how harmful social media’s impact is on society, especially regarding mental health. There were several findings in this study that support the allegation that social media use is connected to mental health disorders in teens and children. Because “teens experience anxiety from social media related to fear of loss,” they feel a need to constantly be on social media to respond to messages and comments on posts.

This addictive behavior at a young age can potentially lead to lifelong mental health problems. “Studies have found that using social media platforms can have a detrimental effect on the psychological health of its users,” and the developing young brains of minors are more susceptible to the practices social media companies use to keep people on their platforms. It is also known that harmful and explicit content is not hard for minors to access on social media and that it can have a negative effect on their mental health.

Some features on social media platforms encourage children to engage with adults or content that is aimed at a mature audience. This puts children at risk of sexual exploitation. Social media companies need to increase their vigilance in keeping harmful content away from children and teens.

Study: Social media use linked to a decline in mental health

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported an increase in suicide death rates among adolescents aged 10 to 24 years old. The national average increase from periods ranging from 2007 to 2009 and 2016 to 2018 was almost 50%. New Hampshire saw an alarming 110% increase in suicide deaths for those in this age range. Social media use is widespread today, but when it was first released, Facebook was only available to college students. A study was conducted during the early phase of the social media platform Facebook in colleges that had access to the platform early on.

In this study, “researchers found a significant link between the presence of Facebook and a deterioration in mental health among college students.” To conduct the study, researchers used a mental health and well-being survey that received 430,000 responses and compared it with the staggered rollout of Facebook at various colleges. The study found that depression and anxiety both increased the year following the release of Facebook. It also claims that the length of time a person in college is exposed to Facebook, the stronger the mental health issue can be.

One conclusion from this study is that if social media can have a detrimental effect on a college-aged student, then the effects on a younger person could be substantially increased. The study indicates that other factors may contribute to the mental health issues people experience but that social media’s influence is a factor in having a healthy mental state.

Instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of orthorexia nervosa

Eating disorders like orthorexia nervosa, or an obsession with healthy eating that leads to health complications, are claimed to be a side effect of using social media for a prolonged period. In the Instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of orthorexia nervosa study, researchers determined that Instagram “was associated with stronger orthorexic symptoms,” than any other social media platform. While the study did not separate participants by age, 75% of teen girls report using Instagram regularly.

Greater levels of depressive symptoms and following a greater number of strangers are associated with negative social comparison. The frequency of a person’s Instagram use has also been linked to negative body image and feelings of low self-esteem, especially in young girls. This is likely due to it being picture-based as opposed to being a text-based platform. Teen girls are typically more concerned with their appearance than teen boys, putting them at a higher risk for body dysmorphia and developing eating disorders. Unrealistic images on Instagram can cause girls to have unrealistic expectations for their own bodies.

Social Media and Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory

Adolescence is a vulnerable time for brain development. And the U.S. Surgeon’s General Advisory states that “Adolescent social media use is predictive of a subsequent decrease in life satisfaction for certain developmental stages, including for girls 11–13 years old and boys 14–15 years old.” The images and messaging that young people see during this stage of life can help shape their thought processes throughout adulthood. Because of the prevalence of social media in society, “social media exposure during this period warrants additional scrutiny.”

This study found that children age 12 to 15 were twice as likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety if they spent more than three hours a day on social media. Further data also suggests that children in eighth and 10th grades spend approximately 3.5 hours a day on social media on average. Because of the prevalence of self-harm content on social media, harmful behavior becomes normalized to viewers. This can lead young adolescents to believe that their mental health problems are normal and experienced by a larger population than they really are.

Children need to engage in healthy behaviors that are age-appropriate, and social media has been shown to exploit children by exposing them to inappropriate and harmful content. Social media uses a reward system through likes and comments that encourage people to perform risky behaviors that get them those pleasing rewards. This is similar to how people become addicted to drugs. Social media companies use reward systems, social comparison, time-sensitive content, and other techniques to exploit a child’s need to feel included. With 70% of parents saying technology makes their job more challenging, it is time to do more research.

Projected social media settlement amounts

Settlements for social media lawsuits will depend on a variety of factors, including the company being sued, the complaint, and the age of the user. It is currently unknown what payouts could be for individual lawsuits against social media companies regarding wrongful death and mental health damages.

With the recent Seattle school district lawsuit and several others following suit, there is potential for a class-action lawsuit. However, this type of case is something new, and it is too early to tell how many cases will come about that involve government entities. Public nuisance cases can go either way, with some being successful and others being dismissed. Without many comparisons, attorneys are hesitant to predict settlement amounts.

Although the potential for wrongful death suits to pay out a large sum is there, there are no cases to compare these social media lawsuits to as of yet. After one of these mental health or wrongful death lawsuits against social media companies is settled, attorneys will have a better idea of what possible settlement amounts could look like for plaintiffs.

Recently, Facebook came to a $725 million class-action settlement in a case where plaintiffs claim the company was negligent in monitoring third-party access to their data. And in another recent settlement involving ByteDance, a payout of $92 million will go to users who claim the TikTok parent company harvested their data without their consent. Settlement amounts in these cases will not be determined until the final hearings, but this settlement may help an attorney estimate payout in future cases against social media companies.

Talking to an attorney is the best way to find out if you should file a social media lawsuit for mental health issues or wrongful death. Teens and children are experiencing mental health disorders at an unprecedented rate, and they deserve compensation if their health condition is related to addictive practices used by social media tech companies that want more engagement solely to increase profits.

Do you qualify for the social media lawsuit?

There are a wide range of mental health issues that can stem from prolonged use of social media. Children are exceptionally malleable and influenced easily by external sources, and social media companies are said to create their algorithms to exploit the fragile emotional and cognitive state of mind of developing children. If your child under the age of 18 is suffering from depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, suicidal thought or ideation, or self-harm behaviors, you could be eligible to file a social media lawsuit.

Children are also experiencing cyberbullying that makes them afraid to go to school or interact with peers. This anxiety can lead to other health complications. Before you can file a lawsuit, an attorney may ask you:

  • How long your child has had symptoms related to social media use.
  • Which social media platforms your child uses.
  • How long your child uses social media each day.
  • How long your child has had a social media account.
  • What diagnoses your child has from doctors related to mental health.
  • What medications your child takes to help with their mental health issues.

An attorney can help you file a lawsuit or lead you to resources that allow you to join any multidistrict litigation that fits your case details if cases are combined at some point.

Social Media Lawsuit Timeline

  • October 2022: More than 70 social media lawsuits were consolidated in this MDL in Oakland, California. 
  • February 2023: A master complaint for plaintiffs joining the MDL was approved by the judge. 
  • March 2023: The judge instructed Defendants to file any Motion to Dismiss no later than April 2023, and for Plaintiffs to respond by June 1, 2023. 
  • June 2023: The Motion to Dismiss deadline and the Opposition to Motion to Dismiss deadline were set for June 1, 2023. Furthermore, the Reply to Motion to Dismiss deadline was set for June 30, 2023. 
  • July 2023: Various school districts filed social media lawsuits, which were then transferred to the MDL. 
  • August 2023: The deadline for the Motion to Dismiss concerning Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the First Amendment was established as August 15, 2023.