Facebook, Instagram and Other Social Media Lawsuits
Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and other social media lawsuits claim that social media platforms can cause mental health issues such as eating disorders, self-harm, addiction and more in children and teens. Parents say companies knew the platforms could cause these issues but failed to warn users.
Why Are People Filing Social Media Lawsuits?
People are filing social media harm lawsuits because published studies and internal company notes and memorandums link the heavy use of social media to mental health problems among children and teenagers. Issues include social media addiction, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, low self-esteem and suicidal ideation
Meta is purposefully “causing and contributing to [the] burgeoning mental health crisis perpetrated upon the children and teenagers of the United States.”
Social media risks to teens are greater than they are for adults. Lawsuits against Meta, which is Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, allege the company created unreasonably dangerous products that hook children and teens. Meta’s internal documents show company leaders were aware its addictive design resulted in suicide and self-harm injuries to Facebook and Instagram users.
Meta faces hundreds of legal claims from parents and families of children and teens who suffered mental health problems after using Facebook and Instagram. School districts are also suing parent companies of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube and other social media platforms, claiming the platforms “exploited the vulnerable brains of youth.”
Facebook and Instagram Linked to Social Media Addiction
Studies have shown that Facebook, Instagram and other platforms stimulate the brain in ways that create addictive patterns. Instagram created a “perfect storm” of social media addiction by exposing users to social comparison and algorithms that push content through its Feed, Stories, Explore and Reels features, according to legal filings.
“Social media platforms drive surges of dopamine to the brain to keep consumers coming back over and over again. The shares, likes and comments on these platforms trigger the brain’s reward center, resulting in a high similar to the one people feel when gambling or using drugs,” said Dr. Nancy DeAngelis, director of behavioral health at Jefferson Health in Abington.
How Algorithms Target Teens
Algorithms of social media platforms target teens by delivering stories, images and videos tailored to them. Meta spends millions of dollars to target and maintain its teen audience. But algorithms amplify posts that collect the most likes, shares and follows. This can lead to platform timeline feeds dominated by unrealistic beauty standards, over-the-top opinions, extreme stunts and social media challenges.
Instagram, which is popular among teens, built its platform to encourage people to compare themselves to others. Critics argue it leads to unrealistic expectations for teens and that social media feeds dominated by messages of self-harm, eating disorders or other self-image-related content can lead to serious mental health issues for children and teens.
Teens Vulnerable to Addiction
Social media by design encourages people to use platforms consistently, and teens are especially vulnerable to addictive social media use because their brains and social skills develop rapidly. The brain grows fast during adolescence. Social media overuse can rewire the brain to seek out constant updates.
“This is what can make mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, ADHD and body dysmorphia worse,” DeAngelis said. The younger children are when they use social media, the more vulnerable they can be.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that teens who use social media more than three hours a day are at higher risk for mental health problems.
Meta Knew of Harmful Effects on Teen Girls
Meta’s social media harm statistics show one in three teenage girls who used Instagram felt bad about their bodies, according to reports that were leaked from the company in 2021 by whistleblower Frances Haugen. The girls also suffered higher rates of anxiety and depression.
Meta’s platforms intentionally allowed children and teens to evade parental authority that could curb their social media use, court filings allege. The company also knew that children under the age of 13 used its products, which are significantly more addictive and harmful to teens, children, women and people of color.
A federal lawsuit filed by Kathleen Alexis and Jeffrey Spence claims that Instagram led Alexis to develop “addiction, anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, and, ultimately, suicidal ideation” after she started using the platform at age 11. The platform encouraged her to open multiple accounts without her parents’ consent.
Instagram Connected to Eating Disorders
Photo- and video-driven Instagram highlights lifestyles and personal beauty, which can lead to body image issues and eating disorders. In a 2021 experiment, CNN created an account in the persona of a 13-year-old girl. Instagram then promoted accounts such as “Sweet Skinny,” “Prettily Skinny” and “Wanna Be Skinny” to the dummy account.
A 2017 study published in Eating and Weight Disorders looked at an eating disorder called orthorexia nervosa, an obsession with healthy eating that frequently also occurs with anorexia. It found “higher Instagram use was associated with a greater tendency towards orthorexia nervosa, with no other social media channel having this effect.”
School District Sues Meta and Other Social Media Companies
Besides lawsuits filed by individuals, Meta, Google and other companies that own social media platforms face claims from schools that they cause negative impacts on students’ mental health. Companies designed their social media platforms to boost profits by maximizing users’ time spent on the platforms, according to a claim by the Seattle public school system.
The designs have “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 lawsuit says.
Students experiencing depression, anxiety and other mental health issues also end up performing worse, engage in substance use and have behavior problems. The school district seeks monetary damages to pay for teacher training and screening of students with mental health issues.
14 Cited Research Articles
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