Maryland public school sues TikTok, Meta, Snapchat for contributing to mental health crisis
School officials say apps like Facebook and TikTok are contributing to a mental health crisis and a rise in cyber-bullying.
A Maryland public school is taking legal action against the owners of Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube alleging public nuisance and gross negligence as school administrators cite a worsening mental health crisis and a rise in cyber-bullying.
Prince George’s County, Maryland, Public Schools (PGCPS) filed a nearly 200-page lawsuit against the social media companies Meta, Snap Inc., Byte Dance and Google alleging they were intentionally targeting children with platforms designed to be addictive.
The lawsuit alleges that the social media companies designed the platforms without fully understanding the consequences on children's mental health. The lawsuit cites the rise in eating disorders, depression and suicidal ideations among teenagers.
"Our primary goal is to ensure the safety and well-being of our children, allowing them to learn and receive the highest quality education possible," said Judy Mickens-Murray, the PGCPS school board chair in a statement. "Unfortunately, students in our district and throughout the nation are confronting unparalleled mental health and learning challenges caused by their addiction to social media, intensified by detrimental algorithms and features. It is imperative that these companies take responsibility for their role in this crisis affecting our youth."
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"Defendants’ growth is a product of choices they made to design and operate their platforms in ways that exploit the psychology and neurophysiology of their users into spending more and more time on their platforms," the lawsuit from PGCPS states. "These techniques are both particularly effective and harmful young users. Defendants have intentionally cultivated, creating a mental health crisis among America’s youth."
"It is imperative that these companies take responsibility for their role in this crisis affecting our youth."
The lawsuit continues, alleging that the social media companies "recklessly ignored" the impact on children's mental and physical health in a race to "corner the valuable but untapped market" of teenagers.
"Over the past decade, Defendants have relentlessly pursued a strategy of growth-at all-costs, recklessly ignoring the impact of their products on children’s mental and physical health and well-being. In a race to corner the "valuable but untapped" market of tween and teen users, each Defendant designed product features to promote repetitive, uncontrollable use by kids," the lawsuit says.
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The plaintiff argues that the apps exploit children since their brains are not fully developed and "they lack the same emotional maturity, impulse control, and psychological resiliency as adults."
"Recognizing the power of engaging young users, Defendants deliberately tweaked the design and operation of their apps to exploit the psychology and neurophysiology of kids. Because children’s and adolescents’ brains are not fully developed, they lack the same emotional maturity, impulse control, and psychological resiliency as adults," the lawsuit argues. "As a result, they are uniquely susceptible to addictive features in digital products and highly vulnerable to the consequent harms."
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While the lawsuit does not specify the amounts of damages, it does seek compensation for the financial burden incurred by the county as it provides more mental health services. The county is also asking a jury to award punitive damages.
In a statement to FOX 5, a Google spokesperson said that these "complaints are simply not true."
"Protecting kids across our platforms has always been core to our work," Google spokesperson Ivy Choi told FOX 5. "In collaboration with child development specialists, we have built age-appropriate experiences for kids and families on YouTube, and provide parents with robust controls. The allegations in these complaints are simply not true."
PGCPS is joining two other school systems in Cecil and Carroll counties, both located in Maryland, and school systems in California, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
Meta, Snap Inc., and Byte Dance did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital's request for comment.