Seattle Schools Suing Tech Giants Over Students' Mental Health

    Seattle Schools Suing Tech Giants Over Students' Mental Health
    Last updated Jan 09, 2023
    Image credit: CFOTO/Future Publishing/Getty Images [via Fox News]


    • The Seattle city school district has filed a lawsuit against Alphabet Inc., Meta Platforms Inc., Snap Inc., and ByteDance Ltd., the owner of TikTok, over claims that schools can't fulfill their educational requirements due to students' anxiety, depression and other related mental health difficulties allegedly resulting from social media usage.[1]
    • The 91-page suit was filed on Friday with the US District Court and claims that Big Tech's contribution towards worsening mental health and behavioral disorders has forced schools to take additional measures, such as hiring additional mental health professionals, preparing lesson plans to educate students on the impact of social media, and providing additional training to teachers.[2]
    • According to the complaint, the social media companies have "successfully exploited the vulnerable brains of youth," and "the content Defendants curate and direct to youth is too often harmful and exploitive."[3]
    • Although the Communications Decency Act provides a level of immunity to online platforms regarding third-party users and their content, the school district's lawsuit alleges they're liable for the recommendation, distribution and promotion of content and marketing on their platforms.[4]
    • According to the complaint, mental issues have significantly increased in the last decade, with the proportion of Seattle Public School students who reported feeling "so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row" that they stopped carrying out some regular activities rising by 30% between 2009 and 2019.[5]
    • None of the companies have yet responded, however Meta founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has previously denied that Facebook has a negative impact on users' mental health. He has pointed out that the platform receives revenue from ads, claiming advertisers wouldn't pay to see their products in close proximity to "harmful or angry content."[6]


    Establishment-critical narrative

    Vulnerable young people are facing mounting mental health pressures and, while some factors provoking this decline — such as issues within the education system and the fallout from the COVID pandemic — are difficult to change, others are very easy to, like algorithms or social media codes. By making the relevant companies more accountable, settings, content filters, and revised guidance could help young people have healthier relationships with social media platforms.

    Pro-establishment narrative

    Third-party users are largely responsible for their content and conduct online, and numerous regulatory processes are carried out to ensure content is not harmful. According to Meta's global head of safety, Antigone Davis, over 30 tools have been developed to support teens and families, encourage time limits, and identify more than 99% of harmful content even before it's reported by users. Evidently, social media platforms are always evolving to keep young people safe.

    Cynical narrative

    A crisis affecting mental health isn't the same as a crisis of mental health, and the "reification" of society — where the effects of political arrangements of power and resource start appearing like objective facts about the world — have had the consequence of swapping out political problems for scientific or technical ones. Characterizing issues such as the youth mental health crisis as a problem of "social media addiction" rather than focusing on going after unregulated tech oligopolies skips over the core fact — societal problems like these are inherently political.

    Nerd narrative

    There is a 10% chance that the US will ban TikTok before 2024, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

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