CMS sues owners of Facebook, TikTok, other social media companies for addictive products

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is the latest district to join in a national fight against social media platforms, alleging they harm children’s mental health and cause behavioral problems in classrooms.

The district’s board filed a lawsuit in federal district court Thursday against Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram; Google; ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok; and Snap Inc., which owns Snapchat, to hold defendants accountable for “the addictive nature of their social media products,” according to a news release.

The social media “addiction” has led to the district to provide more mental health resources to its student body, amid rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, according to the lawsuit, and now schools are struggling to meet the surging demand for mental health services. The Charlotte Ledger first reporter on the suit.

“The Board’s decision to take legal action reflects our unwavering commitment to the welfare of our students and to ensure that social media corporations are held responsible for their contribution to the mental health challenges faced by CMS students,” Elyse Dashew, CMS board chair, said in a news release.

The Wall Street Journal reported in July that nearly 200 school districts had joined the litigation against social media platforms, along with hundreds of suits by families alleging harms to their children from social media.

Other NC districts will join

Janet Ward Black and Emily Beeson, of Ward Black Law in Greensboro, told The Charlotte Observer Friday they are representing additional school boards around North Carolina “that will be filing suit in the near future.”

Black says CMS aims to “initiate a transformation” of the platforms to make them safer. The district also is seeking accountability and financial support.

“There is not a set monetary amount the schools are seeking,” Spokesperson Hannah Gallagher told the Observer. “They are looking for both funds to abate the crisis they’re facing and changes to the design of social media to avoid the harms that the products have been causing.”

Law firms in Baltimore, Delaware and San Francisco also are representing districts.

“Social media companies intentionally design their platforms to get young users addicted to their services and exploit their developing minds for profit,” said Phil Federico, an attorney representing CMS. “We plan to compel social media companies to fully address the harms caused by their platforms and compensate school districts for the resources they’ve been forced to utilize to try and mitigate this youth mental health crisis.”

Lawsuit: kids struggling

More than a third of 13- to 17-year-old kids report using one of the social media platforms, “almost constantly” and admit this is “too much,” according to the lawsuit. Yet more than half of the kids report they would struggle to cut back on their social media use.

Suicide rates for youth have increased 57%, and emergency room visits for anxiety disorders have increased 117%, according to the lawsuit. In the decade leading up to 2020, there was a 40% increase in high school students reporting persistent sadness and hopelessness, and a 36% increase in those who attempted to take their own lives. In 2021, one in three girls seriously considered attempting suicide, according to the suit.

The Wall Street Journal reports later this year a judge is expected to consider a tech companies’ motion to dismiss the cases on grounds “the conduct allegedly causing the harm is protected under the internet liability shield known as Section 230.”

Congress approved Section 230 in 1996, which says that internet companies generally aren’t liable for third-party content on their sites.

Spokespeople for Google, Snap and Meta told the Wall Street Journal that protecting kids is the core of their work. The Meta spokeswoman told the Journal: the company wants “to work with schools and academic experts to better understand these issues and how social media can provide teens with support when they need it.”