Litigation Seeks Social Media Regulation To Protect Children

Litigation is proceeding in federal court in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) and California state court in the Judicial Council Coordination Proceeding (JCCP) against social media platforms Meta (Facebook and Instagram), Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube.

The suits claim that children and teenagers experience negative effects such as eating disorders, depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and even suicide due to their addiction to social media. This behavioral addiction is much like substance addiction; it involves cravings, tolerance, withdrawal and relapse.

Beasley Allen attorney Joseph VanZandt serves in leadership on the Plaintiff Steering Committee for the MDL and is co-lead counsel of the JCCP.

In October 2021, whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before Congress and shared documents that revealed Meta’s awareness that children and adolescents were addicted to their social media products. Moreover, they knew about the resulting harm and increased attempts to keep them on the platforms for longer durations and to prompt them to view the platforms more frequently.

A study recently featured in JAMA Pediatrics, a monthly medical journal, examined the frequency of social media usage among sixth and seventh-grade students. The study also used brain imaging to determine if there was a link between social media use and functional brain development.

According to researchers, children who frequently checked social media exhibited notable differences in brain development compared to those who refrained from doing so.

Researchers also found that with excessive social media use, adolescents experience a decreased sensitivity to social reward over time, requiring additional and more frequent stimuli for emotional satisfaction. The U.S. Surgeon General recently issued an advisory about the “growing concerns about the effects of social media on youth mental health.”

Demurrers to dismiss the case were argued in the JCCP over two days, starting September 13, and were presided over by JCCP Judge Carolyn Kuhl in the Los Angeles Superior Court. The Demurrer highlighted the vulnerability of the developing brain and the design effects of social media platforms that create a profound risk of addiction and harm to children and adolescents’ mental health and overall well-being.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers are optimistic that the court will reject the Defendants’ motions and let the case enter the discovery phase. In the MDL, a hearing on motions to dismiss is scheduled for October 27 in front of Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers.

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