Hundreds Of Families Suing Social Media Giants
Families fighting social media companies over children’s mental health
In theory, social media is a fantastic way to keep up with long-distance family and friends, discover new places to explore, or learn tips that make daily tasks easier. With increasing presence, accessibility and use, it is almost necessary if we want to stay connected to the world around us. However, what happens when this overwhelmingly powerful platform falls into the wrong hands, those who are young, impressionable and susceptible to the dangers lurking beneath the surface?
In today’s culture, you’d be hard-pressed to find a significant amount of people, especially young people, “unplugged.” With a swipe of a screen or a push of a button, the World Wide Web lights up our devices, providing access to everything we could possibly hope to learn—and even more we wouldn’t.
The Monolith Threat
In August 2020, 14-year-old Englyn Roberts died by suicide. Her parents, Toney and Brandy, told CBS News’ 60 Minutes host Sharyn Alfonsi they had no idea the bright and sunny baby of the family was struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. Only after searching through her phone did they find a simulation video of a woman demonstrating how to hang herself. A video that, according to Brandy, was still circulating online about a year and a half after her daughter’s death and was only removed in December 2021.
Alexis Spence, now 20, developed depression and an eating disorder at the age of 12 after Instagram algorithms led her to pro-anorexia accounts from an innocent search for exercise tips. Her parents gave her the phone to communicate with them after school and middle school teachers, took precautions by setting age restrictions and a schedule in which young Alexis was allowed to use her smartphone. In the same 60 Minutes segment, which aired earlier this week, Alexis told Alfonsi that she learned “pretty quickly” how to sneak phone use and override the parental controls that ultimately contributed to a downward spiral into dangerous waters.
These stories are just two of the more than 1,200 families filing lawsuits against major social media companies such as Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, Roblox and Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram. According to 60 Minutes, more than 150 cases will move forward after the start of the new year. All the companies contacted for the story declined to comment.
Evidence that companies know their influence and impact on youth
Last fall, former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen testified before a Senate subcommittee that the major social media company is actively “harming children, sowing division and undermining democracy in pursuit of terrifying growth and ‘astronomical profits.’ Haugen, a Facebook employee for nearly two years, was researching how foreign adversaries were using misinformation promoted by the company’s algorithms. Almost the first former employee to blow the whistle on the tech giant, Haugen’s testimony was backed up by dozens of research documents she copied before she left; Accurately coining “The Facebook Files,” these papers proved that Facebook “…deliberately withheld important information from the public, from the US government, and from governments around the world.”
Executives of the company such as Monika Bickert and Mark Zuckerberg themselves released statements that the information provided by Haugen was taken out of context. However, the leaked research shows otherwise. In one survey, 13.5% of teenage girls in the UK and 6% in America responded that their suicidal thoughts increased after using Instagram. Another found that around 32% of teenage girls (presumably worldwide), or 1 in 3, experienced increased negative body image issues after browsing the photo-sharing platform.
According to the Wall Street Journal, more than 40% of Instagram’s users are 22 years old and younger with approximately 22 million teens logging in every day, putting the app in a high-profile, incredibly influential position for young people around the world.
Social Media Victim Center: The Lawyer Taking On Social Media Giants
After reading the Facebook files, attorney Matt Bergman, a product liability attorney, started the Social Media Victims Center to help and support families suffering at the hands of social media companies’ negligence. Representing the Spence and Roberts families, as well as the hundreds of other families who filed suit, Bergman told Alfonsi, “Time and time again, when they have an opportunity to choose between safety of our children and profits , they always choose profits … I’m all for parental responsibility. But these products are expressly designed to evade parental authority.”
Sometime next year, Bergman and his team will begin the process for a federal case against Meta and others. This multi-million-dollar lawsuit, he says, is about more than just the money, but a plea for policy change. At this time, he outlines a three-pronged approach that addresses the flawed, easily circumvented age verification, the harmful and unnecessary algorithms, and a better way to ensure parents are informed. “Let’s be realistic, you will never have social media platforms that are 100% secure. But, you know, these changes will make them safer.”
Social media addiction? Get the help you need
Despite not being listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), research shows a strong correlation between social media use and signs/symptoms of other addictive behaviors. Because it is largely the way of the world these days and a major form of communication, daily social media use can be normal or expected. Difficulty arises when the scrolling and thoughts of the scrolling become excessive and consuming. Add in the influx of influencers and edited material designed to gain traction and attention and it’s no wonder teenagers in particular are experiencing serious mental health consequences.
If you or someone you love is showing signs of a social media addiction, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. There are resources available to help you. Learn more about online therapy and how it can be used to treat social media addiction from the comfort and privacy of your own home.
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