Holding social media accountable for the behavior they reward is why several Seattle schools are suing Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube.
The role of social media in public behavior has become increasingly concerning in the last few years, brought into the center ring by its effect on national and global politics. It has been a matter of private and public concern, leading to several congressional hearings and a number of lawsuits. Some frivolous, many not.
“Millions of young people are struggling with bullying, violence, trauma and mental health. We must hold social-media companies accountable for the experiment they are running on our children for profit,” wrote President Biden in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.
On January 6, 2023, Seattle Public Schools filed a lawsuit against Meta, Google, and other social media companies in federal district court. The lawsuit alleges that young people are being recommended harmful content online by algorithms intentionally designed to incite and drive engagement at the cost of mental health. It calls for holding social media accountable, at least in part, for the post-pandemic mental health crisis in minors.
The lawsuit stands on studies which have linked heavy social media use to increased documentation of depression, anxiety, bullying (both as perpetrators and victims), and burnout. It also references 2021 whistleblower Frances Haugen, who worked for Facebook and testified that executives buried research linking social media and youth mental health problems.
“Our obligation is to create the conditions for students to thrive and have high quality learning experiences,” said Seattle Public Schools superintendent Brent Jones. “The harm caused by these companies runs counter to that.”
If the lawsuit pends until at least next month, there is a chance the social media companies could find themselves more responsible for the content they allow than they are now. A Supreme Court case is coming to bear n February which could result in holding social media companies accountable for content recommended by their search and browsing algorithms.