The Social Media Victims Law Center (SMVLC) has filed a lawsuit against Snap Inc. and Meta Platforms Inc. – formerly Facebook – on behalf of the family of a 15-year-old girl who was allegedly hospitalized for psychiatric episodes related to her social media addiction.
The girl named in the lawsuit as M.K. was not allowed to use social media until her 14th birthday, at which point she got a new phone that could support the apps Snapchat and Instagram. The victim's mother and plaintiff, Brittney Doffing, alleges that her daughter quickly developed a severe addiction to the apps.
"These social media companies are aware of the flaws and addictive properties of their platforms and have failed to adequately design their products to protect minor users from harm," Matthew Bergman, founder of SMVLC, said in a statement. "Meta Platforms and Snap must be held accountable for the inaction and deliberate addictive design of these social media platforms that prey on vulnerable children."
Doffing is accusing the social media platforms of negligence, having defective designs, not warning users of the physical and mental harms that can stem from social media use, and sex discrimination for exposing her daughter to "harmful content, advertising and recommendations based upon her female gender."
Before March 2020, when M.K. turned 14, she was attending school regularly and passing classes. Within two weeks after she got a phone and started using Snapchat and Instagram, "M.K. displayed little interest in any activity other than viewing and posting on the Instagram and Snapchat applications," and her academic achievements took a hit, the complaint states.
M.K. allegedly began getting less sleep due to her addiction and was "hospitalized twice for psychiatric episodes" after her mother attempted to restrict her social media use.
The teenager "subsequently developed an eating disorder and engaged in periodic crash diets followed by binge eating" due to "recommendations and content" the apps presented to her, according to the lawsuit.
Additionally, "numerous" male users "solicited for sexual exploitive content and acts on numerous occasions" from M.K.
Bergman filed a similar lawsuit against Snap and Meta last week on behalf of the family of an 11-year-old Connecticut girl, Selena Rodriguez, who committed suicide on July 21, 2021. The attorney, who has worked as a personal injury lawyer for 30 years before starting the SMVLC, believes the companies need to be held liable for the suffering they allegedly caused plaintiffs.
The lawsuits point to a burgeoning mental health crisis among U.S. youth that appears to correlate with the rise of technology and social media.
About 45% of high school students said they used a social media platform daily, and 24% said they were online "almost constantly," according to a 2018 survey by Pew Research Center.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a new Surgeon General’s Advisory in December 2021 warning of a growing youth mental health crisis amid the coronavirus pandemic. Early estimates for 2020 show more than 6,600 suicide deaths among U.S. youth, ages 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Emergency room visits for suicide attempts among adolescent girls, in particular, rose by 51% during the pandemic, and emergency room visits among adolescent boys increased by 4% during the same time period, CDC data shows. Even prior to COVID-19, one in every five U.S. children between the ages of 3 and 17 experienced mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorders, a CDC report shows.
"People are coming together on this," Bergman previously told Fox News Digital. "This an issue that transcends political differences, transcends ideology, transcends parties. And at some level, we're all parents … and all of us who have kids want to protect their kids."