A California school board is suing giant social media companies for allegedly creating a “destructive environment for children” and leaving parents and educators to deal with what they deemed is a growing mental health crisis among the youth.
The 107-page lawsuit, filed Monday in Northern California on behalf of the San Mateo County Board of Education and the San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee, names some of the biggest names in social media, including YouTube, Google, Snap Inc. and TikTok.
The suit alleges the companies use artificial intelligence and machine learning to deliver harmful content to children.
“Just as we had ‘Big Tobacco,’ we now have ‘Big Tech’ exploiting children – one need only follow the tech lobby’s swift and forceful attacks on recent efforts by our California Legislature to put in place common sense rules to address the tracking and profiling of users under the age of 18,” Joe Cotchett, an attorney for the firm representing the school board, said in a statement.
The lawsuit said the tech companies have knowingly created an “unprecedented mental health crisis” in pursuit of profit by purposefully designing their platforms to be addictive and to deliver harmful content to young users.
“There is hard science behind the claim that social media is fueling a mental health epidemic in school-age children; every day schools are dealing with the fallout, which includes distracted students, increased absences, more children diagnosed with ADHD, cyber-bullying that carries into the classroom, and even physical damage to our San Mateo Schools, an example is the vandalism caused by the TikTok so-called “Devious Lick Challenge” at the start of the school year,” Magee said in a statement.
A Google spokesperson told FOX Business that the company has “invested heavily in creating safe experiences for children across our platforms and have introduced strong protections and dedicated features to prioritize their well being.”
“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,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“Nothing is more important to us than the wellbeing of our community,” a Snap spokesperson said in a statement. “At Snapchat, we curate content from known creators and publishers and use human moderation to review user generated content before it can reach a large audience, which greatly reduces the spread and discovery of harmful content.”
A TikTok spokesperson declined to comment on the litigation.
Various social media companies have been criticized over censorship and how content is marketed toward children. Critics have pointed to various “challenges” that encourage kids to perform sometimes outrageous acts that can end up being harmful or even costing them their lives.
“For the youth targeted by social media companies and for the adults charged with their care, the results have been disastrous,” Karin Swope, an attorney for the firm, said. “Excessive use of the YouTube, TikTok, and Snap companies’ platforms by children has become ubiquitous. And now, there are more children struggling with mental health issues than ever before. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for youths.”
The complaint cited the “Devious lick” TikTok challenge, a viral 2021 game in which kids posted videos of themselves stealing or vandalizing their schools.
The lawsuit is asking a court to force the companies to curtail the conduct of the defendants and pay for county schools to address the alleged mental health crisis involving children.