U.S city sues social media platforms for the ‘harm they are doing to children’s mental health’
A U.S city is the latest in a growing list of municipalities to sue a group of social media companies, alleging they are harming the mental health of children.
The City of Providence has filed a lawsuit in the U.S District Court, accusing Instagram, Facebook and TikTok of ‘ruthlessly seeking to maximise profits while disregarding the harm they cause to minors’, reports local media.
In the lawsuit, the city claims that the companies ‘purposefully manipulate their users and feed into addictive design models’. Providence is asking for financial compensation and a jury trial.
At least 40 school districts across the country have filed similar lawsuits, citing the negative effects on children and young people. And while experts are divided on just how successful these claims can be, and more importantly what changes they could bring, it does make clear the depth of feeling amongst many about the vulnerability of young digital users.
This latest lawsuit, according to The Providence Journal, makes reference to statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control which say the suicide rate for young people aged from 10 to 24 rose by some 57 per cent between 2007 and 2018.
‘Exploit the psychology of users’
In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency in 2021.
Providence’s contention is that social media companies ‘have exploited the vulnerable brains of youth, hooking tens of millions of students across the country into feedback loops, which Defendants know will lead to excessive use (and abuse) of social media’.
The action taken by Providence follows a suit filed a group of schools in Seattle earlier this year, which accused the social media firms of designing their platforms intentionally to grow user bases and ‘exploit the psychology of their users into spending more and more time’ on the platforms. Another school district, this time in Washington, also filed a similar claim.