Having successfully sued e-cigarette company Juul, hundreds of lawyers are now attempting the same claims with social-media companies—claiming it is sparking a mental-health epidemic.
- Nearly 50 lawsuits filed by public-school districts are targeting social-media apps owned by Meta Platforms, Alphabet, Snap, and ByteDance, Forbes reports.
- The lawyers speaking on behalf of the districts say that social-media platforms are harmful to children, creating a severe mental-health crisis and fostering addictive tendencies—leading to suicide in some cases.
- Attorney Anne Marie Murphy, who represents San Francisco Bay Area schools, tells Forbes that more of these lawsuits are expected and that it could grow into a larger movement.
- A Snapchat spokesman tells Forbes that the company is very concerned about the “well-being of our community.”
Why It’s Important
School districts across the country are emboldened by the success they had suing the makers of the e-cigarette Juul, making the case that it is a “public nuisance”—a term for things that cause widespread harm. Like e-cigs, social media is changing the way that younger generations interact with each other, for better and worse. Mental health has long been an issue with developing adolescents. Still, the addictive nature of smartphones and social media has added new pressures on children, who engage with friends outside of school more aggressively through apps like Snapchat and TikTok.
The effects of smartphones have led to movements in the tech world to offer healthier alternatives to major social-media platforms. Apps such as Be Real have attempted to find ways to make social media less unhealthy. Alternatively, thousands of young people have abandoned smartphones altogether for dumbphones and flip phones.
The lawyers making the case against social-media platforms are using the same “public nuisance” arguments that were successfully made against Juul—which was forced to make a $462 million payout in six states over claims it had marketed its products to underage adolescents. These arguments are traditionally difficult to win in court but could draw results from emboldened and litigious legal teams.
Others, meanwhile, say that it is up to parents to monitor the behavior of children. If a smartphone and social-media app will be detrimental to one’s health, limit or deny access to it. We cannot be suing every manufacturer that produces a product that sometimes hurts the end user. Plenty of youth and adults use apps that do not cause mental health issues.
“All it takes is some wild trend and you’re not focusing on teaching and learning. I think the real harm is that the algorithm, the design of the technologies are very intentional and much more sophisticated than they used to be,” San Mateo County Superintendent Nancy Magee tells Forbes.