NYC Sues Social Media For Destroying Mental Health Of Youth

On Wednesday, New York City filed a federal lawsuit against the parent companies of TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat, accusing the social media companies of fomenting a “nationwide youth mental health crisis” since they exposed children “to a nonstop stream of harmful content.”

The city filed its suit in California Superior Court. It is alleging that all of the companies designed the platforms intentionally to manipulate children and teens and to get them addicted to using their social media apps.

In backing up these claims, the city says the apps all use algorithms that generate feeds so users remain on the platforms longer, which ultimately encourages use that is compulsive in nature.

As the lawsuit pointed out:

“Youth are now addicted to Defendants’ platforms in droves, resulting in substantial interference with school district operations and imposing a large burden on cities, school districts and public hospital systems that provide mental health services to youth. While presented as ‘social,’ Defendants’ platforms have in a myriad of ways promoted disconnection, disassociation, and a legion of resulting mental and physical harms.”

The companies that created the apps are being accused of manipulating their users, encouraging them to be compelled to respond to one positive action with another one.

One of the companies that is being sued, Snapchat, issued a statement that directly addressed the accusations in the lawsuit. Ashley Adams, who works as a  spokeswoman for Snap Inc. — which owns Snapchat — said:

“Snapchat was intentionally designed to be different from traditional social media, with a focus on helping Snapchatters communicate with their close friends. Snapchat opens direct to a camera — rather than a feed of content that encourages passive scrolling — and has no traditional public likes or comments.

“While we will always have more work to do, we feel good about the role Snapchat plays in helping close friends feel connected, happy and prepared as they face the many challenges of adolescence.”

Meta, the parent company that owns both Instagram and Facebook, said that teen safety was one of their top priorities.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the company said they want to create “safe, age-appropriate experiences online” for teens. TO that point, they’ve made available more than 30 features and tools that are meant to support both teens as well as their parents.

The spokesperson said:

“We’ve spent a decade working on these issues and hiring people who have dedicated their careers to keeping young people safe and supported online.”

Still, the New York City lawsuit claims that the social media apps “take advantage of reciprocity by … automatically telling the sender when their message was seen or sending notifications when a message was delivered.”

This ends up encouraging teen users “to return to the platform again and again, and perpetuating online engagement and immediate responses.”

New York City said that it has spent significant money and resources to try to address mental health issues that students have experienced. This lawsuit is seeking to recoup some of that money from the social media companies.