Seattle Public Schools Sue Meta, Snap, TikTok, and YouTube for Mental Health Crisis

Seattle School District No. 1 filed a lawsuit against Meta (including Facebook and Instagram), Snap Inc., TikTok, and YouTube (including Alphabet and Google). But why? Let’s dive in…

Seattle School District No. 1 is a school district in King County, Washington and part of Seattle Public Schools, the largest kindergarten through 12th grade school system in Washington. Seattle Public Schools serves approximately 49,300 students at 106 schools.

The complaint, filed on January 6th, alleges that the social media companies’ “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. These techniques are both particularly effective and harmful to the youth audience Defendants have intentionally cultivated, creating a mental health crisis among America’s youth.” The complaint links these design choices to the need for ad sales and revenue from serving ads to children.

The complaint dives into, and cites, the numerous news stories and research, and regulatory action from the FTC and others, that we’ve seen over the last few years when it comes to the impact social media platforms have on our society and our mental health, especially when it comes to teens and children.

🤷‍♂️ So what’s the school district aiming to achieve through filing the lawsuit?

They write that the district “needs a comprehensive, long-term plan and funding to drive a sustained reduction in the record rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and other tragic indices of the mental health crisis its youth are experiencing at [the social media companies’] hands.”

Basically, they’re linking the social media platforms to the district’s increased funding and budget allocation towards mental health trainings, programs and resource development, professional staff expansion, and more.

🧑‍⚖️ What’s the legal basis here?

Section 230 👉 The District is arguing that Section 230 doesn’t apply here because it’s the actions (design, communications to users, etc.) of the platforms, not it’s users, that are at issue.

Washington Public Nuisance Law 👉 the mental health crisis arises to the level of a public nuisance under Washington state law.

✊ What do they want?

The District seeks a judgment that:
1️⃣ The platforms’ actions are a public nuisance;
2️⃣ The platforms are jointly and severally liable for the mental health crisis;
3️⃣ The platforms have to work towards fixing the alleged actions contributing to the mental health crisis;
4️⃣ The platforms have to stop the alleged activities that cause and/or contribute to the crisis;
5️⃣ Awards equitable relief that funds prevention, education, and treatment for the crisis;
6️⃣ Damages – actual and compensatory damages, statutory damages, attorneys fees, and interest.

Phew!

The case is Seattle School District No 1 v. Meta Platforms, Inc., et. al. (2:23-cv-00032), District Court, W.D. Washington. Download a copy of the complaint.

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