Families File Class Action Lawsuit Against Social Media Channels
March 23, 2023
Social media permeates nearly every part of our lives. Social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube allow users to communicate with one another, share information and create content – but a new federal lawsuit alleges these channels are equivalent to dangerous and defective products, with app makers predatorily targeting young users to get them hooked on their services for good.
Altogether, more than 100 cases have been consolidated into one multi-district lawsuit (MDL). A California judge will begin hearing pre-trial motions on the matter this June. The plaintiffs are arguing that TikTok, YouTube, Facebook and Snapchat designed their social media platforms (and the websites’ algorithms) to be intentionally addictive. For context: an algorithm is a set of rules and signals that automatically rank content on a platform to determine how likely a user is to like and engage with it. In other words, algorithms essentially custom tailor a user’s content feed based on their behavior and engagement on the platform itself. The more that a user likes photos and videos of animals, for example, the more animal-based content will begin to appear on their feed for them to interact with and view.
Current estimates suggest that more than 21 million American young adults and teens are members of various social media sites. While social media boasts to have an array of positive features, like communicating and staying up-to-date with friends and families around the world, networking with people who share similar interests and making new friends in different places, the alleged victims and their family members are saying the platforms have a much darker and dangerous side to them – and that the companies knew what they were doing to millions of young, vulnerable users all along.
The Pervasive Dangers of Social Media: The Allegations
This lawsuit may very well make legal history. It is groundbreaking because it seeks to answer a complex, important question: are social media platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Facebook and Snapchat consumer products? And if they are indeed products, then can’t they be just as dangerous and defective as, say, faulty seatbelts? According to the families of more than 100 alleged victims, these platforms are not only products, but they have created a very real and very harmful public health crisis for their young users.
Here are just a few examples of distressing allegations from the lawsuit:
- The Spence’s family says their teenage daughter developed an eating disorder by the age of just 12-years-old. It seemed innocent enough at first; the teen just had an Instagram account. But what started as a simple search for a workout routine turned into a content feed full of eating disorder propaganda. Eventually, the teen became suicidal.
- Another family calls social media the “silent killer for our children’s generation”. The Roberts’ tragically lost their 14-year-old daughter. The young girl ended her life after being sent distressing content from a friend. The content showed a woman pretending to hang herself. Later, that’s what the teen did. The family had to fight to have the video removed from the website for nearly a year and a half after their child’s death.
- Like complaints that plaintiffs have filed against opioid makers in recent years, the attorneys on this case are testing out the legal theory of social media platforms as products. One family in the consolidated suit, for example, alleges that Instagram has a “defective” design which fails to warn teen users that app manufacturers intend it to be addictive.
- In addition to the pending MDL, the School District of Seattle also launched a complaint this January against tech companies like TikTok and Meta for creating what it calls a “youth mental health crisis”.
According to the Mayo Clinic, social media is linked to several harmful effects for teens. Social media can distract teens, disrupt their sleeping schedules, and expose them to bullying, unrealistic views of other people’s lives, rumor spreading, and peer pressure. Another study observed a strong link between high rates of social media use and worse sleep quality, anxiety and depression.
Some of the companies named in these lawsuits by the grieving or concerned families of adolescent users have responded to being in the legal spotlight. TikTok issued a statement bringing attention to the parental control features that its platform boasts; Meta promised to continue working with lawmakers and parents to prioritize safety. Only time will tell if the tech giants start to take safety more seriously – or if teens and other young users will continue to pay the price.
Philadelphia Products Liability Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP, Representing Injured Victims Since 1947
If you have questions about filing a claim for injuries you sustained, 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.