Volusia County Schools in Florida is one of 12 districts in the state and 650 nationwide that are suing Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, along with other social media companies. The lawsuit alleges that these companies have harmed children’s mental health and burdened educators through their addictive algorithms.
The suit argues that social media companies’ algorithms have contributed to a decline in mental health among students, leading to increased anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and even suicide. As a result, school districts are having to hire more staff and create new policies and plans to address these issues.
Personal injury cases against social media giants are also being brought by families and individuals, with some handled by Frantz Law Group of San Diego. These cases claim that social media companies have been negligent in enforcing age requirements and have violated the RICO Act, which is the same law used against organized crime.
The lawsuit alleges that social media companies engage in racketeering and fraudulent business dealings by misleading the public and withholding their own research on the mental health dangers for young users. The defendants are accused of manipulating their platforms to maximize users’ time and engagement, exploiting the brain’s reward systems.
Studies have shown that social media platforms exploit the same neural circuitry as gambling and recreational drugs to keep users hooked. The suit highlights that 90% of children between the ages of 13 and 17 use social media, and even younger children are increasingly joining these platforms.
The lawsuit claims that social media companies’ misconduct is a substantial factor in the youth mental health crisis, causing increased anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. It points to advisory statements from the U.S. Surgeon General and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supporting the notion that social media can pose risks to children and adolescents’ mental health.
Volusia County Schools officials have not commented on why they joined the lawsuit. However, the school board voted unanimously to join the suit based on the recommendation of Superintendent Carmen Balgobin.
This lawsuit brings attention to the issue of technology’s impact on mental health, potentially prompting legislators to review and modify federal laws concerning social media companies. U.S. Senator Rick Scott expressed frustration with Congress’s failure to regulate these companies and hopes that action will be taken soon.
In response to these concerns, Volusia County Schools has implemented a new policy requiring middle and high school students to turn off their phones and keep them out of sight during instructional hours. This policy aligns with the passage of House Bill 379, which aims to address phone usage in schools.