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  • Facebook Facing Lawsuits Alleging the Company Endangers Children

    facebookJust last month, a 22-year-old Florida woman sued Facebook and its parent company, Meta Platforms Inc. The plaintiff is claiming that the two companies prey on young users in order to bolster their advertising sales and increase revenue. This is not the first lawsuit to allege that Facebook, Meta and similar tech companies exploit young members to keep them online and engaging with their products. In the last year, at least two other families have filed lawsuits alleging that their teenage children tragically took their lives after developing unhealthy addictions to social media platforms.

    With more than 4.5 billion users worldwide, social media is one of the most popular online activities. In some cases, individuals who use social media become psychologically or behaviorally dependent on the platform(s), leading to significant impairment in various areas of their lives. Just last year, Meta whistleblower, Frances Haugen, went public with leaked documents showing that the company is well aware of the harmful effects its products have on users. And it is without doubt that the harmful effects of heavy social media use and addiction are concerning.

    The Dangers of Social Media

    Numerous studies have shown the many ways that social media overuse and addiction are problematic, particularly for young users. Here are just a few examples of these findings:

    • A 2019 study found that teens who used three or more hours of social media (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok) each day were more likely to experience mental health problems. Another study that same year found that 13 to 16-year-olds who used social media at least three times a day had a higher incidence rate of poor mental health and wellbeing
    • Even using social media passively, like to view and like photos and videos, was linked to a marked decrease in life enjoyment for teens
    • Heavy social media use has been linked to symptoms of depression and anxiety
    • Nighttime social media use can lead to worse overall sleep quality
    • Long-term use of social media can affect the way that a person sees themselves. A study focusing exclusively on Facebook showed that the longer users were on the platform, the more they believed other peoples’ lives were better than their own
    • Using social media renders teens vulnerable to experiencing harassment or bullying

    According to the 22-year-old woman’s suit against Meta, the company uses its algorithm to get young users hooked on its products, then redirects their attention towards idealized versions of others in their same age range. The plaintiff claims that by using its algorithm this way, Meta knowingly puts young users into situations that increase their risk for developing anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia, and in some extreme cases, suicidal ideations.

    Even Meta’s own internal data shows that the company is aware of the effects its products have on users. For example, the company previously found that:

    • 32% of teen girls said that when they feel bad about their bodies, using Instagram makes the feelings worse
    • 17% of young girls who use the photo-sharing app say that it makes their issues with eating more severe
    • Instagram users are twice as likely to develop an eating disorder than individuals who do not use the photo-sharing app
    • More than 13% of girls who use Instagram say the app worsens their feelings of self-harm and/or suicide

     

    There are additional lawsuits emerging against Meta and other tech giants, as well. Last January, the mother of an 11-year-old girl sued Snap, Inc., the owner of Snapchat, after her daughter took her own life. The girl’s mother claims that the social media platform played an active role in her child’s depression and her subsequent suicide. The Wisconsin-based mother of a young teenage son filed a similar suit just months ago, alleging that her son committed suicide after developing a dangerous addiction to Meta and Snap’s products.

    Protecting Young Users from Content

    When it comes to other products, manufacturers are legally responsible for providing effective safeguards to protect against known and foreseeable hazards. Although Meta and most other social media platforms attempt to enact age limits that users must meet (in most cases, users must be at least 13-years-old to sign up to join these platforms), many of these systems are obsolete and have gaps in their security or age verification processes that allow even younger users to gain access to the sites easily. The plaintiffs in the recent spate of lawsuits along with their attorneys hope that the increased attention will force Meta’s hand, forcing the company to develop useful ways for protecting young users.

    After Haugen’s whistleblowing against Meta last year, Facebook said it would be implementing an array of new tools to divert users away from negative content. Some examples of these tools include identifying users who have been on the platform for a long period of time and reminding them to “take a break”, identifying when they are engaging with harmful content and steering them in a different direction, limiting political content that young users have access to, and giving parents or guardians greater amounts of control over accounts maintained by teens. But plaintiffs in the suits against Meta hope the company will take things even one step further, developing strategies that identify users who spend long periods of time on the platform or who regularly engage with potentially harmful content and notifying their parents of the risks they may be facing as a result.

    Tips for Keeping Kids and Teens Safe Online

    The internet and social media are not going anywhere, so it is important to know what steps to take to keep kids safe. Being online does not only pose dangers related to depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia, suicidal ideation, and feelings of dissatisfaction, but it also creates risks associated with child exploitation from online predators. The U.S. Department of Justice recommends that parents and caregivers follow these tips to protect children from becoming victims:

    • Discuss internet safety and develop an online safety plan. It is important to establish clear guidelines, teach children how to spot red flags and which ones to look out for, and to encourage open, honest communication
    • Supervise young children’s internet use, including periodically checking their profiles and posts. Keep electronic devices in open, common areas of the home and consider setting limits for screen time and use
    • Review social media sites, games, and apps before they are downloaded and/or used by children. Pay specific attention to apps that offer end-to-end encryption, video chats, direct messaging, file uploads and user anonymity. Sites that offer these features are used more frequently by predators
    • Teach children about avoiding sharing personal information, photos and videos online, in public forums, or with people they do not know in real life. Tell children that images that are posted online will remain there forever
    • Teach children about body safety and boundaries, including the importance of saying “no” to inappropriate requests online and in the real world
    • Encourage children to tell a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult if anyone asks them to engage in sexual activity or other inappropriate behavior
    • Be alert to potential signs of abuse or other worrisome behaviors, including a change in the child’s use of electronic devices, attempts to conceal online activity, withdrawn behavior, angry outbursts, anxiety and depression

    To read more from safety tips on protecting children online from the US DOJ, visit: https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus/keeping-children-safe-online. If you have questions or concerns related to your child or teen’s use of social media, someone at our firm can help. Contact a representative online now.

    Philadelphia Products Liability Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP, Representing Injured Victims Since 1947

    If you have a question about filing a legal claim, contact the Philadelphia products liability lawyers at Galfand Berger LLP today. Call us at 800-222-USWA (8792) or fill out our online form for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, we serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Allentown and Harrisburg.

    ALLENTOWN/BETHLEHEM
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