Lawsuits pile up as U.S. parents take on social media giants
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As concern grows over social media, U.S.
lawsuits stack up * Surge in mental health problems worst among girls * Lawyers zone in on algorithm designs, whistleblower leaks * Others see platforms as scapegoat for society’s woes By Avi Asher-Schapiro LOS ANGELES, Feb 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – At about the time her daughter reached the age of 12, American health executive Laurie saw her once confident, happy child turning into someone she barely recognized.
At first, she thought a bad case of adolescent angst was to blame. Initially, her daughter had trouble sleeping and grappled with episodes of self-loathing and anxiety, but by the time she was 14, she had started cutting herself and was having suicidal thoughts. Without Laurie knowing, she had been sneaking away her confiscated smartphone and spending hours online at night, trawling through posts about self-harm and eating disorders on social media platforms. “One day she said to me: ‘Mom, I’m going to hurt myself badly if I don’t get help,'” Laurie said as she described the mental health crises that have plagued her daughter for the last two years, disrupting her education and devastating the family’s finances. She asked to use only her first name in order to protect the identity of her daughter. Paying for her daughter’s care – therapists, a psychiatrist, and multiple residential treatment facilities across the country – has nearly bankrupted Laurie, who recently sold her house in California and moved to a cheaper home in another state. In August, she filed a lawsuit on behalf of her daughter against the social media platforms she blames for the ordeal: Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. The case is one of dozens of similar U.S.
lawsuits which argue that, when it comes to children, social media is a dangerous product – like a car with a faulty seat-belt – and that tech companies should be held to account and pay for the resulting harms. “Before (she used) social media, there was no eating disorder, there was no mental illness, there was no isolation, there was no cutting, none of that,” Laurie told the Thomson Reuters Foundation about her daughter, who is identified as C.W.
in the suit. Don Grant, a psychologist who specializes in treating children with mental health issues linked to digital devices, said Laurie’s predicament is increasingly common. “It’s like every night, kids all over the country sneak out of their houses and go to play in the sewers under the city with no supervision. That’s what being online can be like,” he said. “You think just because your kids are sitting in your living room they’re safe – but they’re not.” Facebook’s parent company Meta Platforms Inc, Snap Inc, which owns Snapchat, and TikTok declined to comment on individual lawsuits, but said they prioritized children’s safety online. Meta executives, under criticism over internal data showing its Instagram app damaged the mental health of teenagers, have highlighted the positive impacts of social media, and their efforts to better protect young users. ASBESTOS, TOBACCO, SOCIAL MEDIA? Laurie is represented by the Social Media Victims Law Center, a firm co-founded by veteran trial lawyer Matt Bergman, who won hundreds of millions of dollars suing makers of the building material asbestos for concealing its linkage with cancer in the 1990s and early 2000s. Bergman decided to turn his attention to social media after former Facebook executive Frances Haugen leaked thousands of internal company documents in 2021 that showed the company had some knowledge of the potential harm its products could cause. “These companies make the asbestos industry look like a bunch of Boy Scouts,” Bergman said. Facebook has said the Haugen papers have been mischaracterized and taken out of context, and that Wall Street Journal articles based on them “conferred egregiously false motives to Facebook’s leadership and employees”. Bergman’s firm has signed up more than 1,200 clients including Laurie over the past year, taking out television ads asking families who worry about their children’s social media use to get in touch on a toll-free hotline. In addition to more than 70 cases involving child suicide, evden eVE naKliYAt – https://gita.indicwiki.in/index.php?title=Head_Of_Epsom_College the firm has collected over 600 cases linked to eating disorders.
Dozens more accuse social media firms of failing to prevent sex trafficking on their platforms, or stem from accidental deaths after children attempted viral stunts allowed to spread online. In late 2022, 80 similar federal suits from 35 different jurisdictions were consolidated together and are now being considered by the U.S.
District Court for the Northern District of California. Laurie’s suit is part of a similar bundle of suits filed in California state courts. HIDING BEHIND SECTION 230 None of these cases – or any of those filed by Bergman – have yet to be heard by a jury, and it is not clear if they ever will. First, he has to get
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