Young people looking at their phones in a school setting

Social Media Addiction Litigation Moves Forward

Plaintiffs’ lawyers in a national multidistrict litigation (MDL) against some of the world’s largest social media platforms filed a master complaint on Feb. 14, meeting a deadline set by federal judge Yvonne Gonzalez-Rogers in Oakland, Calif. Beasley Allen lawyer Joseph VanZandt is one of the lawyers appointed to the Plaintiffs Steering Committee leading this landmark case, which currently includes 133 personal injury claims.

The lawsuits allege that Meta (Facebook and Instagram), Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube analyze users’ personal data and employ algorithms to manipulate minors and keep them addicted to the product. Social media companies designed their products to work much like a drug. Using the products deliberately affects dopamine levels in youth, the lawsuits allege. Consequently, the products have caused minors to develop anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, suicide, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and other severe mental and physical health difficulties.

In addition to prioritizing master pleadings and setting a deadline for the master complaint, Judge Gonzalez-Rogers also set deadlines of April 17, 2023, for the defendant’s motions to dismiss and June 30, 2023, for all oppositions and replies.

Litigation will continue to the discovery phase if plaintiffs overcome the defendant companies’ motion to dismiss the initial claims. Additional families can join the lawsuit, adopting the allegations contained in the master complaint.

While the defendants can brief certain legal issues, the judge discouraged filing motions involving Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) and the First Amendment. Lawyers for the defendants had sought to advance an argument that the complaints should be tossed under the CDA, which gives internet companies immunity from the actions of third parties.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Gonzalez v. Google could potentially narrow the social media companies’ immunity under Section 230 of the CDA. The High Court’s ruling in the case will clarify and establish standards for the level of immunity social media companies currently enjoy under the Act. The decision could also weaken the anticipated defense strategy in this case and significantly impact future social media litigation.

The lawsuits in the social media MDL are not about third-party involvement as much as they are about the defendant companies’ own actions. Joseph likens the social media cases to those he brought against the vape maker JUUL, which developed and marketed highly addictive nicotine products targeting minors. Those cases recently resulted in four major global settlements.

The discovery is being stayed in the social media addiction MDL pending master pleadings and motion practices. Yet, Judge Gonzalez-Rogers has ordered some defendants to provide documents they previously produced in connection with other investigations conducted by state attorneys general and international authorities. Another Case Management statement was submitted on March 3.

All of the defendants in this case also face a multitude of personal injury lawsuits consolidated for litigation in the Superior Court of California for the County of Los Angeles. In California, lawsuits combined and tried together are known as Judicial Council Coordinated Proceedings (JCCP), similar to a federal MDL. In addition to the federal MDL, Beasley Allen is honored to represent plaintiffs in the California litigation. Judge Carolyn Kuhl is presiding over the Social Media JCCP. An initial hearing in that litigation took place on Feb. 17.

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