School districts sue TikTok, Snapchat over mental health crisis

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Ten school districts in Arizona are suing TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, alleging the social media companies have knowingly contributed to a mental health crisis among their students, and in doing so have forced them to divert resources to address it. It is believed at least 600 school districts nationwide are suing the social media companies.

The Mesa School District filed suit in January. The complaint alleges that the social media companies have intentionally designed their platforms to maximize the time users spend on them. According to the complaint, they’ve done so by exploiting the neurophysiology of the brain’s reward systems, despite knowing that social media harms young people.

Students who experience anxiety, depression, thoughts of self harm, and other mental health issues “perform worse in school, are less likely to attend school, and to act out,” the complaint says.

The complaint states the number of youths using social media platforms has increased since 2008, and during that time, youth mental health has worsened.

Joseph Tann, an attorney, represents six districts including Mesa. He joined Arizona Horizon to talk about why these suits are happening.

“Our country is in the midst of a youth, mental health epidemic. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, 1 in 5 kids aged 13 to 17 currently suffer from a mental health disorder,” Tann said.

Social media sites create unique algorithms for every person who uses the site. An algorithm is a compilation of rules and data that make decisions about what users want to see on the platform. Young teens are sent through a ‘dark pattern’ or potentially harmful decisions regarding the processing of their personal data.

“We’re not trying to shut down social media. I think it can be a valuable tool in society. We just want a safer environment for our kids,” Tann said.

Joseph Tann, Attorney

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