Baltimore City’s school district has joined districts across the nation that are suing the social media companies that operate Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube over the impact of their content on teens’ mental health.
In a statement to The Baltimore Banner, the city schools system states the tech giants should be held accountable for “predatory behavior that has contributed to and exacerbated the ongoing mental health crisis for young people in Baltimore City and beyond.”
“Those companies must be required to mitigate the harm they continue to fuel, without further delay,” the statement continued. “The health of our students is paramount.”
In joining the class action suit against the social media companies, Baltimore City Public Schools argues that the social media companies are exploiting the “neurophysiology of the brain’s reward system” that keeps young people returning and staying on their platforms. School-aged children’s brains are more vulnerable than adults, the lawsuit notes, and the lack of emotional maturity and impulse control make it difficult for kids and teens to fight the manipulation and harm that comes from social media.
“Social media platforms have recognized that if they hook their users when they are young, they will have lifelong users,” the lawsuit states. “As Instagram’s marketing strategy clarifies, ‘If we lose the teen foothold in the U.S. we lose the pipeline.’”
The city school system is seeking equitable relief to fund prevention education and treatment for excessive social media use, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney fees, among other things.
According to the court document, city educators have seen an increase in severe anxiety, depression, self-harm, low self-esteem, emotional dysregulation and other mental health issues among their students. Staffers who have witnessed it, such as school counselors, say the use of social media may contribute or exacerbate the symptoms.
“Students, in general, spend 3.5 or more hours a day on average on Defendants’ platforms — this adversely affects their social, emotional, and cognitive behavior and health, which contribute or exacerbate observed increases in their mental health challenges,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit for Baltimore City schools was filed on Thursday, but the conversations started in January when Seattle Public Schools became the first district to sue. According to The Washington Post, 500 districts had joined the class action as of June. They include Montgomery, Prince George’s, Howard, Harford, Carroll and Cecil counties.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this year that teen girls are experiencing record-high levels of violence, sadness and suicidal risk.
LGBTQ+ teens face “extremely high” levels of violence and mental health challenges.
And the Mayo Clinic suggests parents set limits on the amount of time teens spend online, monitor their accounts, explain what’s not OK to do on the site, encourage face-to-face interactions with friends and talk with them about social media.
In response to the poor mental health seen in students, the city schools system has educated students and families about mental health and well-being, but its budget isn’t big enough to fully address the crisis, according to the lawsuit.
“Defendants must be held accountable for the costs currently borne by City Schools and provide funds needed to address the mental health crisis fueled by Defendants,” the lawsuit states. “They also must be enjoined from continuing to burden City Schools by developing and distributing their products in ways that exacerbate psychological and social-emotional harm [to] its students, and sometimes leads to physical harm.”
Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, on June 27 announced new features to make it easier for teens to manage their time on apps. They include: parental supervision for private messages; a tool that limits unwanted interactions in private messaging; and “Quiet Mode,” a feature that sets time limits on Facebook.
“Today’s updates were designed to help teens feel in control of their online experiences and help parents feel equipped to support their teens,” the post stated. “We’ll continue to collaborate with parents and experts to develop additional features that support teens and their families.”