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The Potential Harm of Social Media Platforms on Young Users

November 28, 2022 Blog,Social Media,Social Media Blog

Studies are finding the potential harm in social media use (overuse) in preteens and teenagers. Some of these injuries include body Dysmorphia, dangerous behavior, depression and suicide. Research studies such as Tangmunkongvorakul et al. (2019), and Shoukat (2019), found that increased smartphone-use registered lower phycological well-being, with social media engagement being the predominant activity. It was found that social media platforms have negative mental and subsequent physical impacts on users such as anxiety, depression, antisocial behavior, body dysmorphia and eating disorders, self-harm and even suicide.

Independent researchers are not alone in their findings. In 2021, a former Meta researcher leaked documents which showed that the company was fully aware of the impact of Instagram on their youngest users yet downplayed the dangers to the public. The reports also showed that these companies not only downplayed the effects, but they also enhanced the platforms’ algorithms to maximize engagement, increasing profits ignoring the dangers to their users.

How did they get away with it?

Despite the dangers of social media addiction, social media companies have been able to avoid liability. This is because online community platforms are under the protection of Section 230. Section 230 of the US code protects community platforms from content published by third parties.

However, as the public continues to learn about the companies’ questionable business practices, they have successfully circumvented Section 230, and brought lawsuits against companies who have harmed their loved ones.

What is changing?

Frances Haugen, the whistle blower who leaked company documents, was instrumental in driving the change. Some of the key information shared by Haugen was the use of algorithms to manipulate user engagement, particularly in young users. As a result, plaintiffs are bringing lawsuits against social media companies for the use of platform algorithms to increase engagement for monetary gain.

The Negative Impact of Instagram and similar platforms on female teens and preteens 

In 2021, Haugen released studies conducted by the company which showed a glaring correlation between the use of their social media platforms, and the development of unhealthy body image, depression and sometimes, eating disorders.

According to a Law360 article, Social Media Injury Suits Centralized in Calif. Federal Courts, dozens of suits have been consolidated against META, TikTok among others for “exploiting underage users and causing them emotional and physical harm.”

The Verve article, Instagram Internal Research: ‘We make body image issues worse for one in three girls’, published in September 2021, explores the question: “How bad is Facebook for the mental health of its young users? Pretty Bad.”

According to this Wall Street Journal Report Facebook is aware that Instagram negatively affects the physical and mental wellbeing of young people, especially teenage girls. Documents leaked by a former META researcher show that the company is aware yet, downplays the issue.

JCCP Update

A CNN feature called, ‘Wired for Trouble’ follows the plight of three families suing Social Media companies, Meta, Snapchat and TikTok for exposing their children to harmful content leading to depression, eating disorders and suicide.

The parents featured are just three of many who are now in a consolidated lawsuit against the biggest Social Media companies in the world – the Social Media Judicial Council Coordination Proceedings (JCCP), which wants to hold these companies accountable for encouraging social media addiction in young users despite knowledge of the potential harmful effects.

Frederick Schenk, CaseyGerry partner and head of the firm’s Mass Torts practice, was appointed to the plaintiffs’ steering committee in the JCCP. CaseyGerry is the only San Diego based law firm representing individuals in the JCCP lawsuit.

The story follows the stories of these three families as they describe how easily their children were sucked into the dangers of social media due to algorithms designed to keep users engaged, the ease with which they accessed harmful content and the unfortunate results of their social media use. Now, these families and the hundreds of others continue to fight social media companies hiding behind Section 230 which protects these companies from liability, to protect all those at risk from the same social media dangers.

Gonzalez v. Google

In 2015, 23-year-old Nohemi Gonzalez, an American student in Paris, was one or 129 people killed when an ISIS terrorist opened fire in a café. This was one of several ISIS attacks in France during the fall of 2015.

Years later, Nohemi’s family is holding Google responsible. Why? It was found that YouTube, owned by Google, was the main source of videos which contained highly violent and radicalizing content. Although Section 230 protected Google from lawsuits based on content published by others, the family’s lawyers claimed that the use of YouTube’s algorithms to identify and push similar content to highly targeted audiences, was grounds for the suit.

According to an article on Slate, the plaintiffs are, “going after YouTube for the targeted promotion of certain content.” If people are searching for things related to ISIS, at least at the time, YouTube will then, at least according to the complaint, recommend similar content.”

Addiction – Antisocial behavior, Body dysmorphia disorder, and Suicide

A Bloomberg article, In Dozens of Lawsuits Parents Blame Meta, TikTok for Hooking Kids, explores the additive nature of social media on young users. There are over 70 lawsuits brought against major platforms such as Meta (Facebook), TikTok, and others on behalf of parents whose children have suffered the side effects of social media addiction, including depression, eating disorders, anxiety and more.

According to the article, at least seven of these lawsuits are of parents whose children committed suicide.

Dangerous Challenges

In Lemmon v. Snap, Inc., three boys died because of using the SnapChat Speed Filter, which measures the drivers’ speed and gives rewards based on how fast they drive. A lawsuit was brought against Snap. Inc. for encouraging reckless behavior. The company was held liable. More information on this case can be found here.

As technology advances at breakneck speed, powerful companies continue to harvest and mine user data for profit, using this information to encourage viewing behavior at the expense of the users’ (mostly teens and pre-teens) well-being.

We Can Help

If social media has caused irreparable harm to you or a loved one, we can arrange a free consultation to discuss your legal options.

CaseyGerry Social Media Addiction Lawyers can help you understand your options for legal recourse and will handle every aspect of your claim.

Arrange a free consultation by calling (619) 730-7586 or sending us a message online today.