New York City lawsuit accuses social media companies of fueling youth mental health crisis

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Thursday, February 15, 2024
NYC sues social media companies for alleged negative impact on youth
N.J. Burkett has the story.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Mayor Eric Adams announced Wednesday that New York City is suing four of the nation's largest social media companies and accusing them of fueling a national and local youth mental health crisis.

The lawsuit was filed to hold TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube Accountable for their damaging influence on the mental health of children, Adams said.

The lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court, alleged the companies intentionally designed their platforms to purposefully manipulate and addict children and teens to social media applications. The lawsuit pointed to the use of algorithms to generate feeds that keep users on the platforms longer and encourage compulsive use.

"Over the past decade, we have seen just how addictive and overwhelming the online world can be, exposing our children to a non-stop stream of harmful content and fueling our national youth mental health crisis," Adams said. "Our city is built on innovation and technology, but many social media platforms end up endangering our children's mental health, promoting addiction, and encouraging unsafe behavior."

The lawsuit accused the social media companies of manipulating users by making them feel compelled to respond to one positive action with another positive action.

"These platforms take advantage of reciprocity by, for example, automatically telling the sender when their message was seen or sending notifications when a message was delivered, encouraging teens to return to the platform again and again and perpetuating online engagement and immediate responses," the lawsuit said.

Mayor Eric Adams discussed the lawsuit on Eyewitness News Mornings @ 10

Mayor Eric Adams discusses the city's social media lawsuit.

The city is joining hundreds of school districts across the nation in filing litigation to force the tech companies to change their behavior and recover the costs of addressing the public health threat.

New York City officials said it has spent significant resources addressing mental health issues among students and is suing to recoup some money.

"NYC Plaintiffs have incurred and will continue to incur costs related to addressing the youth mental health crisis that Defendants created, caused, contributed to and/or maintained. NYC Plaintiffs request relief relating to the damage or injury they have suffered, including actual and compensatory damages in an amount to be determined at trial," the lawsuit said.

Last month, Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan's public health advisory declared social media a public health threat.

The advisory provides recommendations to parents and caregivers, health care providers, educators, and policymakers on actions that can be taken to protect children, including the recommendation to delay social media use until the age of 14.

"No one is talking about a ban, no one is talking about taking, snatching away devices or snatching away platforms," Vasan said. "We're talking about a fundamental set of rules and regulations. And sometimes litigation is the way we have to go about getting it."

Meta released a statement in response, saying they have been working to keep young people safe for a decade and will continue to work on it.

"We want teens to have safe, age-appropriate experiences online, and we have over 30 tools and features to support them and their parents," a Meta spokesperson said. "We've spent a decade working on these issues and hiring people who have dedicated their careers to keeping young people safe and supported online."

A spokesperson for Snapchat released a statement saying it focuses on being different from traditional social media:

"Snapchat was intentionally designed to be different from traditional social media, with a focus on helping Snapchatters communicate with their close friends. Snapchat opens directly to a camera - rather than a feed of content that encourages passive scrolling - and has no traditional public likes or comments. While we will always have more work to do, we feel good about the role Snapchat plays in helping close friends feel connected, happy and prepared as they face the many challenges of adolescence."

A spokesperson for TikTok released the following statement:

"TikTok has industry-leading safeguards to support teens' well-being, including age-restricted features, parental controls, an automatic 60-minute time limit for users under 18, and more. We regularly partner with experts to understand emerging best practices, and will continue to work to keep our community safe by tackling industry-wide challenges."


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