TikTok and other apps being sued over rise in depression in kids

  • A number of public schools in Seattle, Washington have filed a lawsuit against social media apps over their impact on the mental health of children. 
  • The lawsuit mentions TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and others.
  • The addictive nature of these platforms is said to have led to a rise in anxiety, depression and thoughts of self-harm. 

In recent years social media platforms have faced increasing scrutiny over the impact they have on the mental wellbeing of its users. So much so, that some have even had to look at building features to tackle the addictive nature, as well as the potential risks posed by being on social media for prolonged periods.

Now, a group of public schools in Seattle, Washington are looking to take a number of platforms to task over the effects that they have on depression and anxiety in children.

The 91-page lawsuit (PDF) cites the likes of TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and others, alleging that they are responsible for creating a, “mental health crisis among America’s Youth.”

“Defendants’ growth is a product of choices they made to design and operate their platforms in ways that exploit the psychology and neurophysiology of their users into spending more and more time on their platforms,” the lawsuit notes.

It goes on to add that the platforms, “have successfully exploited the vulnerable brains of youth, hooking tens of millions of students across the country into positive feedback loops of excessive use and abuse of Defendants’ social media platforms.”

As Engadget points out, in the US, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act says online platforms are not responsible for content shared by third parties. Crucially, however, it adds that the provision does not exclude said platforms when it comes to content that may cause harm.

Whether social media platforms can be held accountable for an increase in depression among children remains to be seen, but it looks like the lawsuit will highlight a number of reports linking social media use to the rise.

“Defendants’ misconduct has been a substantial factor in causing a youth mental health crisis, which has been marked by higher and higher proportions of youth struggling with anxiety, depression, thoughts of self-harm, and suicidal ideation. The rates at which children have struggled with mental health issues have climbed steadily since 2010 and by 2018 made suicide the second leading cause of death for youths,” the complaint lays out.

As a counter, we could see some platforms, such as Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram) point to the work it has done to date, as well as the features it has created in trying to address this growing problem.

“We’ve developed more than 30 tools to support teens and families, including supervision tools that let parents limit the amount of time their teens spend on Instagram, and age verification technology that helps teens have age-appropriate experiences,” Meta’s global head of safety Antigone Davis explained to Axios in a statement.

“We have invested heavily in creating safe experiences for children across our platforms and have introduced strong protections and dedicated features to prioritize their wellbeing. For example, through Family Link, we provide parents with the ability to set reminders, limit screen time and block specific types of content on supervised devices,” added a Google spokesperson.

[Image – Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash]


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