School districts sue tech companies over youth mental health (includes video story)

Several school districts across the United States are suing social media companies, blaming them for worsening the youth mental health crisis and affecting their learning abilities. 

Some experts believe it’s not entirely their fault. 

Companies like TikTok, Snapchat, Meta and YouTube face allegations of violating public nuisance laws, putting profits over youth’s well-being, and deliberately designing the apps to be addictive while knowing of their harmful effects on children.

Bay District schools in Florida recently joined several more districts from at least seven states including Alabama, to seek stronger safety features and financial compensation.

“The school districts are in turn, then having to spend more and more resources, money, time, teachers on abating that mental health crisis,” said Michael Innes, a partner at Carella Byrne law firm in New Jersey. “And for our clients, that spend is not sustainable…they shouldn’t have to make choices between educating their students or hiring new teachers — and hiring a mental health professional.”

Earlier this year, bipartisan lawmakers discussed the Kids Online Safety Act proposal, aiming to protect children from social media dangers and addiction. Just recently, TikTok’s CEO testified before Congress facing concerns about the exposure of harmful content.

Not everyone agrees that setting limitations and removing appealing features from social media is the solution to the crisis. But it is clear promoting healthier online interaction would have a positive effect.

“Instead of getting teens off of social media, I think we should potentially meet them where they’re at and say, ‘How can we use this as a tool to promote their well-being and their learning?’” said Julie Cristello, a doctoral student in the Clinical Science Program in Child and Adolescent Psychology at Florida International University. 

Cristello believes that engaging with students on social media and using it as a tool for the classrooms can improve their desire for learning and that restricting them from it would only drive kids to find something else to get their hands on. 

The cases are pending as the companies must receive the complaints before filing a motion to either dismiss or respond to them, which legal experts expect to happen within the next six months.

Nicole Ardila is a digital broadcasting major at FIU, also pursuing a minor in psychology. She's reported for Caplin News from Washington, D.C. for an NBCU Academy Fellowship and directed the Opinion section for FIU’s student media, PantherNOW. In the future, she hopes to become a photojournalist and producer for documentaries/film to share important stories from across the world.