May 21, 2024

A California federal judge ruled against major social media platforms on Tuesday in their effort to dismiss a case brought by concerned parents, advocacy groups and school districts against the social media platforms’ addictive design. The plaintiffs asserted that social media platforms—like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube and Google—are defective by design in three major areas, which has caused millions of children to become addicted to the platforms.

The social media giants cited to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 and their rights under the US Constitution’s First Amendment in their request to dismiss the charges.  However, the court found that these protections do not shield defendants from negligence claims. Matthew Bergman, attorney and the founder of the Social Media Victims Law Center commented, “In what universe can a company have a product that directs this dangerous content to kids — and get away with it?”

In her Tuesday decision, US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers summarized that the companies owed a duty to their users arising from their status as product makers and may be “sued for negligence over their duty to design reasonably safe products and to warn users of known defects.”

The plaintiff’s original complaint against the social media platforms cited three main areas of concern.

First, the plaintiffs argued children are still developing impulse control and, thus, are uniquely susceptible to the harms arising from compulsive social media use. The defendant social media platforms, with their endless content loops, contribute to what experts call a “youth mental health crisis.” Last month, Utah brought a similar lawsuit against TikTok, alleging that the social media platform uses “deceptive” and “misleading” practices to manipulate children users.

Second, plaintiffs claimed that the social media platform’s algorithm exposes a child experiencing mental health issues with related content, amplifying harmful themes and exacerbating mental health issues. In their effort to dismiss the lawsuit, the social media platforms asserted they cannot be held liable for this because it fell beyond their design control. However, Rogers responded, “Snapchat’s claim that they are merely a ‘camera application’ falls flat—the impact of its design extends far beyond photography.”

Third, platforms connect children to adult users with quick-add features, which the plaintiffs claimed creates an environment ripe for exploitation. Private chat functions on these social media platforms allows for direct communication between users, including children and adults. While seemingly innocuous, these features enable private conversations that can lead to geolocation services that further expose children’s whereabouts, putting them at risk.

Because of the Tuesday decision, the case will proceed before the US District Court for the Northern District of California.

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