Ashland mom sues makers of Instagram, Snapchat

·4 min read

Jan. 25—An Ashland woman is suing two social media platforms, saying that her 15-year-old daughter's struggles with mental health stem from dangerous flaws in Instagram and Snapchat's design.

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 20 in U.S. District Court in Medford against Snap Inc. and Instagram parent company Meta Platforms Inc. — known as Facebook, Inc. until last fall — claims the teen has needed two psychiatric hospitalizations because of her "extensive and problematic" addiction to social media.

According to Seattle lawyer Matthew Bergman, who represents the Ashland mother, the teen first got access to the social media platforms in March 2020 when she got a smartphone for her 14th birthday.

Since then, the teen has had documented struggles with her body weight and body image, and has been sexually solicited online.

"She has been solicited by adult men with salacious photographs, groomed to provide salacious photographs and shamed because of her body type," Bergman said in a phone interview.

The mother's attempts to separate the teen from her phone have resulted in the teen either running away — where she'll access one of multiple accounts she's created on the two platforms — or psychiatric episodes triggered from the separation so severe that she's twice needed to be hospitalized.

"It is a true case of addiction," Bergman said, adding that the teen "is going to have long-term challenges."

Her grades began dropping within two weeks of opening Instagram and Snapchat accounts, the lawsuit alleges. She started showing little interest in doing anything other than posting on Instagram and Snapchat, the lawsuit claims, and the girl's "academic performance showed a marked decrease due to her obsessive social media use."

The teen allegedly developed an eating disorder and "engaged in periodic crash diets followed by binge eating" that the lawsuit alleges was "specifically due to recommendations and content" on Instagram and Snapchat.

She's received multiple "improper sexual solicitations" via the two platforms that have resulted in the mother contacting law enforcement, according to Bergman.

The mother reached out to the Social Media Victims Law Center after seeing an ad on late-night TV, Bergman said.

Bergman claimed that his client is "very resolute" in drawing attention to the problem in hopes that other parents won't experience what she's gone through; however, Bergman said he and his client understand that taking on some of the largest technology companies will be a difficult process.

"We have no illusions that this is going to be anything other than a long, hard fight," Bergman said. "They are not going to go quietly into the night."

Bergman's lawsuit alleges that Meta Platforms and Snap's social media products are "unreasonably dangerous," citing reasons that include that the products were "designed to be addictive and detrimental to mental health of children," and that Meta and Snap marketed those social media apps to children.

The Oregon case is the first of two lawsuits filed last week by the Social Media Victims Law Center, founded by Bergman. The other case, filed Jan. 20 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, is a wrongful death suit against Meta Platforms and Snap alleging the companies' social media platforms played a role in the alleged cyber bullying suicide of 11-year-old Selena Rodriguez of Enfield, Connecticut.

"I wish I could tell you Selena Rodriguez is the only child that falls into this category," Bergman said. "We intend to continue to file cases that we believe to be legally and factually meritorious."

Bergman founded the Social Medial Victims Law Center late last year about the same time that former Facebook engineer and whistleblower Frances Haugen released tens of thousands of internal documents — many of which focused on teenage mental health — to the Securities and Exchange Commission and news outlets in what's become known as The Facebook Files.

Bergman's other law firm, Bergman Draper Oslund Udo of Seattle, calls itself "the Pacific Northwest's premier mesothelioma law firm" and states it has been "fighting for asbestos victims since 1995."

He said he believes that his more than two and a half decades in product liability law could help spur social media companies to create safer products for juveniles.

"The idea is, we don't make cars the way we do in 1950 — we don't make cars the way we did in 1980," Bergman said. "We're not talking about perfection."

He's also advocating for more transparency between parents and a juveniles' social media accounts.

"Parents should have the ability to be informed if there's problematic use," Bergman said. "Right now kids aren't even safe in their own home."

Parents who believe they have a case can find the Social Media Victims Law Center online at socialmediavictims.org. The cases Bergman believes have the most potential are cases where either the juvenile has been treated by mental health professionals or cases where law enforcement was involved.