- Social Media Companies Are Shielded from Lawsuit, or Are They?
- Google Is Being Sued Over Their Algorithm and Could Affect the Internet for Good
- Children Harmed From Other Social Media Users
- Social Media Algorithms & Technology
- How Social Media Accounts Can Harm Young People
- The Facebook Whistleblower
- Is Social Media Addictive?
- Teens Use Social Media A LOT
- Social Media Companies Have a Responsibility to the Public
- What Kind of Harm Can Social Media Addiction Cause?
- Social Media Use Maybe Linked to Suicide Risk
- How are Facebook and Instagram Harming Youth?
- Dangerous Social Media Trends
- Protecting the Rights of Social Media Harm Victims
- Call Us Today to Speak With a Social Media Youth Harm Attorney
Social Media Companies Are Shielded from Lawsuit, or Are They?Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act offers blanket immunity for internet companies, websites, and social media entities for third-party content posted on their website. In other words, websites that host or republish speech are protected against a range of laws that might otherwise be used to hold them legally responsible for what others say and do on their website. However, these new lawsuits that are seeking to hold social media companies responsible for the harm that they knowingly cause young people are going about it a little differently. These lawsuits are utilizing a different legal precedent: product liability. Basically, lawyers are arguing that social media companies are responsible for the harm that they have caused, not because of the content that other users have posted on their platform, but because they have created a product that is harmful. More specifically, they have created algorithms that are harmful, which is not "user-generated content". This is similar to holding a company that creates a medication that causes cancer or a phone that explodes in your hand accountable for their actions. The question of whether social media companies are immune from product liability claims under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is particularly important.
Social Media Lawsuits Are Being ConsolidatedMeta and other social media companies that are facing claims that their platform has caused addiction and self-destructive behavior in children and teens will face consolidated pretrial litigation. Other social media giants included in the multidistrict litigation (MDL) are Alphabet Inc. (owner of Google and YouTube) Snap Inc. (owner of Snapchat), and ByteDance Inc. (owner of TikTok). Initially, some of the companies argued that the lawsuits should be separated because the social media platforms are different and because trade secrets may be revealed in the trial. But the US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) responsible for the consolidation disagreed.
Google Is Being Sued Over Their Algorithm and Could Affect the Internet for Good
Nohemi Gonzalez, an American studying in Paris, was killed after the terrorist group ISIS opened fire in a café where she and her friends were eating dinner. Now, her family is claiming that Google (who owns YouTube) is responsible because they allowed the terrorist group to post “hundreds of radicalizing videos inciting violence and recruiting potential supporters” to YouTube.
Additionally, they are claiming that YouTube's algorithms promoted this content to users who would be interested in (read as: vulnerable to) ISIS videos.Just like the lawsuits claiming harm to teens and children by social media companies, this lawsuit against Google will reveal a lot about whether internet companies can be sued over their algorithms and the harm they potentially cause.
Children Harmed From Other Social Media UsersPeople, including tweens and teens, interact with many others on social media. The Pew Research Center reports that 72 percent of American adults now use social media accounts, in comparison to half of the adults using it a decade ago and only five percent 15 years ago. Data shows that 4.48 billion people now use social media worldwide, more than double that of eight years ago, and an average social media user engages with an average of 6.6 various social media platforms. The number of people using social media has been increasing regularly over the past decade. Still, social media is also increasingly leading to dangerous and harmful side effects for its users. With more and more people checking various social media sites daily, the chances of someone misusing social media to cause harm are also higher. Many users do not realize they suffer from social media harm until it is too late. While many users have harmless goals and motives for their social media use, others abuse platforms to cause harm to others. Social media misuse can hurt people in many ways - especially young people. When others harass or humiliate someone online, the victim can experience many effects on their life and health. Some harm might include:
- Fear of going to school or work
Social Media Algorithms & TechnologySocial media combines technology with social interaction so that people can communicate with other people through a variety of photo-sharing websites, video-sharing websites, blogs, microblogs, wikis, instant messaging platforms, podcasts, widgets, virtual worlds, and more. Social media customarily includes all of the following:
- Social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn
- Consumer social review websites such as Yelp, Zomato, and TripAdvisor
- Image and media-sharing websites such as Instagram, Imgur, and Snapchat
- Video hosting websites such as YouTube and Vimeo
- Community blogging platforms such as WordPress, Medium, and Tumblr
- Discussion websites such as Reddit, Quora, and Digg
- Sharing economy networks such as Airbnb and Rover
- Bookmarking and content curation networks such as Pinterest and Flipboard
- Social shopping networks such as Polyvore, Etsy, and Fancy
- Interest-based networks such as Goodreads, Houzz, and Last
How Social Media Accounts Can Harm Young PeopleA Pew Research Center survey of almost 750 13- to 17-year-olds found that 45 percent were online almost constantly, and 97 percent were using a social media platform. Pew says social media use can hurt teens, distract them, disrupt their sleep, expose them to bullying, and spread rumors, unrealistic views of other people's lives, and peer pressure. These risks can relate to how much social media teens are using. This year, 95 percent of American teenagers ages 13 to 17 use YouTube, 67 percent use TikTok, 62 percent use Instagram, 59 percent use Snapchat, 32 percent use Facebook, 23 percent use Twitter, 20 percent use Twitch, 17 percent use WhatsApp, 14 percent use Reddit, and five percent use Tumblr. Regarding how much time they spend on social media, 36 percent of teens said they spent too much time on it, eight percent said too little, and 55 percent said their current use was about right. A National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) study found that more time spent on social networking websites related to poor self-rated mental health, unmet need for youth mental health support increased psychological distress, and increased suicidal ideation. The findings indicated that social networking websites contributed to increased exposure to and engagement in self-harm behavior. This is because users tended to emulate the self-injurious behavior of others online, adopt self-injurious practices from self-harm videos, or were encouraged and acclaimed by others and thus normalized self-injurious thoughts and behavior. A 10-year Brigham Young University (BYU) study specifically found a correlation between time spent on social media and suicide risk among teenage girls. BYU noted that suicide was now the second-leading cause of death among people ten to 34 years of age. The BYU study found that girls using social media for at least two to three hours per day when they were about 13 years of age and then increased their use over time were at a higher clinical risk for suicide as emerging adults. The study's lead author, BYU professor Sarah Coyne, said 13 was not a bad age to begin social media. Still, it should begin at a really low level and have appropriately parental management. The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook repeatedly found that their Instagram app harmed many teenagers. Facebook's own studies showed how Instagram harmed teenage girls. One internal Facebook presentation said that among teens reporting suicidal thoughts, 13 percent of British users and six percent of American users traced the issue to Instagram. Researchers wrote that 32 percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse. The Journal noted that over 40 percent of Instagram's users were 22 years of age and younger. Senator Edward Markey and Representatives Kathy Castor and Lori Trahan wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, demanding answers and calling for the company to abandon its plans to develop an Instagram for Kids platform. Six months before the Journal story, Representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Bob Latta, Gus Bilirakis, and Morgan Griffith issued letters to Big Tech CEOs requesting information about internal research or studies the companies conducted to better understand their product's effect on children's mental health.
The Facebook WhistleblowerA former Facebook employee released internal documents recently that revealed that social media companies are aware of the negative effects they may be having on young people. After that whistleblower leak, the Wall Street Journal has since released a report of its own based on these documents, that took an in-depth look at what these social media companies know, and what they have or haven't done about it. The Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, a former data scientist at Facebook, leaked multiple internal studies done by Meta (owner of Facebook and Instagram). Here is some of what they said:
- 13.5% of U.K. teen girls say their suicidal thoughts became more frequent after they started using Instagram
- 17% of teen girls say their eating disorders got worse after using Instagram
- 32% of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse
Is Social Media Addictive?Computers in Human Behavior Reports notes that addiction mainly relates to alcohol, drugs, and gambling. Still, the increasing use of computers and the internet has led to technology addiction becoming more of a social problem since the mid-1990s. California State University (CSU) reports that five to 10 percent of Americans might meet the criteria for being at risk for social media addiction. CSU said that overuse of social media was much more problematic with children because their developing brains are more malleable. While our reward system begins to activate more and develop faster when we reach adolescence, the same is not true for self-control which does not fully develop until 21. PLOS One, a peer-reviewed open-access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science, reports that a growing body of research indicates that using modern technologies, such as the internet, video games, smartphones, and social media platforms, is addictive. While social media addiction is not yet an established diagnosis, it is one of many suggested behavioral addictions. They noted that internet gaming disorder is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders appendix as a condition requiring further research. PLOS notes that academic work in this field faces criticism for inconsistencies in defining normal and problematic usage and using non-standardized measurement tools. There is also a lack of reviews on the subject and no established agreed-upon definitions or gold standard measurements and cutoffs. One part of the research gap is that reported prevalence rates derive from different populations in very different settings and involve differing definitions. PLOS stated there is a scarcity of studies on the prevention or treatment of technology-related addictions, including social media addiction. Psychiatrist Anna Lembke, the author of Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence, says the addictive substance of choice nowadays is often the internet and social media channels. She said social connection through social media apps made us vulnerable to compulsive overconsumption. Joseph Rock, a psychologist in Rocky River, Ohio, reported that research only now shows how our behaviors surrounding social media might meet the standards for addiction. He noted that heavy social media users develop a tolerance to their feelings, meaning they need more and more exposure to get the same effect, which sounds much like drug and alcohol use.
Teens Use Social Media A LOTAccording to a 2022 social media report by Pew Research Center, teens use the top five social media platforms (YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook—in that order) a lot. Like a staggering amount.
- About 75% of teens visit YouTube at least once a day. Additionally, almost 20% of those teen report using YouTube "almost constantly".
- Around 58% of teens visit TikTok daily, 51% visit Snapchat daily, and 50% visit Instagram daily.
- 80% of teens visit some type of social media site every single day and 35% of all U.S. teens report using some type of social media almost constantly.
Social Media Companies Have a Responsibility to the PublicMost social media platforms are entirely self-regulated. Private content moderation means that most social media platforms have a combination of algorithmic and human action determining what kinds of content they eject from their websites. The enormous discretion platforms have over content moderation can be dangerous because platforms will emphasize generating profits more than protecting their users from destructive speech. Such concerns have led to increasing calls for greater regulatory oversight for change within the industry. Section 230 of Title 47 of the United States Code is a part of the United States Communications Decency Act, which was Congress's first attempt to regulate pornographic material online. It generally provides immunity for website platforms for liabilities from third-party content. Section 230 has seen increasing scrutiny in recent years because of how often social media platforms appear unwilling to remove harmful material from their platforms. Many social media platforms took greater steps to demonstrate responsibility, with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) reporting that Pinterest responded to criticism about enabling the spread of misinformation regarding the efficacy and side effects of vaccinations by disabling search results related to vaccines entirely and ultimately announcing that it will limit results to posts from authoritative sources such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Facebook also said it will demote pages and groups spreading misinformation about vaccines and reject any related advertising. Still, while the company said it will do the same on Instagram, the content remained easy to find. Facebook was also facing criticism for not having sufficient content moderation staff, especially staff who can speak languages other than English. When Pew Research Center surveyed the ability to sue social media companies for content that other users post, 56 percent of American adults said people should not sue social media companies. In comparison, only 41 percent said they should. Regarding social media users, 59 percent said people should have the right to sue. Regarding the effects of the ability to sue becoming possible, 53 percent of adults said bullying or harassing posts might decrease, 17 percent said they might increase, and 29 percent said they might stay the same. Additionally, 49 percent of adults said inaccurate or misleading information might decrease, 18 percent said it might increase, and 32 percent said it might stay the same. Forty percent of adults said people freely expressing their opinions might decrease, 19 percent said it might increase, and 40 percent said it might stay the same.
What Kind of Harm Can Social Media Addiction Cause?Social media constantly updates users with the latest developments on their smartphones, tablets, or other mobile devices. While most people prefer to think they are just staying in touch with friends or family, there are several well-known possible drawbacks of relying too much on social media. Some of the most frequent kinds of harm that can result from increased social media use may include:
- Eating disorders
- Social anxiety
- Unrealistic expectations
- Sexual exploitation
- Exposure to content that is not age appropriate
- Unhealthy sleep patterns
- Body image concerns
Social Media Use Maybe Linked to Suicide RiskSocial media use may be linked to an increase in the risk of teen suicide. Teens may develop an excessive reliance on social media connections which can be harmful, including the encouragement of self-harming behaviors or even suicide. People who are at high risk of suicide usually exhibit certain signs. For example, teens who are at risk of suicide sometimes talk about:
- Killing themselves
- Feeling like their life is hopeless
- Having no reason to live
- Feeling trapped or like they can't escape
- Unbearable pain
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Searching online for suicide methods
- Withdrawing from activities
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Saying goodbye at odd times
- Giving away prized possessions
- Isolating themselves
How are Facebook and Instagram Harming Youth?
Putting profits over the best interest of young peopleMeta (formerly known as Facebook) has known from its own research that its social media platforms—they also own Instagram—are having negative effects on a significant percentage of young users, especially teen girls. Yet, Meta, Facebook, and Instagram refused to take steps to reduce the harm. The company makes billions of dollars marketing to its user base—along with detailed data on their likes and interests—to advertisers to increase its profits. And with billions in profits on the line, it's not likely they will do the right thing on their own.
They use psychological tactics to make kids addicted to their productPlatforms like Facebook and Instagram use email and text alerts and push notifications to inform users when they receive positive feedback, such as "likes" or "mentions." According to a recent Harvard University study, when someone posts on social media and receives this positive feedback, it triggers the release of dopamine in the brain - the body's "feel-good" hormone. This reinforces the connection between the behavior and the resulting pleasure, in a similar way to how addictive drugs condition the brain. People can become addicted to social media as a way to combat anxiety, loneliness, or depression, and eventually interferes with work and school duties, which leads to a vicious cycle that promotes reliance on and addiction to social media.
Meta is using algorithm data to further target our childrenFacebook and Instagram use advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence to collect and analyze a user's data. They then use this information to advertise specifically to children. This means that the more time users spend on the database, the better they can target them. And unfortunately, most adults didn't know how to protect themselves from this behavior, much fewer children.
Social media companies are failing to protect our childrenParents are at a disadvantage when it comes to monitoring their children's use of Facebook and Instagram. These platforms have features that make it difficult for parents to keep track of their children's activity and limit their screen time. Once children become addicted to social media, it's hard to break the habit. This can have a negative impact on their mental health. A generation of children and young adults have been trapped by products that have a long-term negative effect on their mental stability due to the delicate, growing nature of the teenage brain, as well as Facebook and Instagram's addictive features.
Dangerous Social Media TrendsThe Blackout Challenge, also known as the Choking Challenge or Pass-out Challenge, predated most modern-day social media websites, with reports tracing it back to 2008. The CDC reported that 82 youths died playing the game that same year. The Blackout Challenge saw a resurgence because of TikTok, and the results once again killed children. The New York Times reported that the parents of two girls, ages eight and nine, said their children died because of the challenge on TikTok and were suing the company because its algorithm intentionally served the children harmful content that led to their deaths. The lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, alleged that TikTok's algorithm intentionally and repeatedly pushed the Blackout Challenge into both girls' TikTok For You Pages and incentivized them to participate in the challenge that ultimately took their lives. The lawsuit also alleged that TikTok's defective design of its social media product resulted in an addictive product that is unsafe for users and fails to warn minors and their parents that TikTok is addictive and pushes harmful content onto their For You Page that can endanger their wellbeing. Wrongful death lawsuits are not the only possible causes of lawsuits against social media companies. Other victims may deal with multiple issues for which they deserve compensation. Lawsuits are becoming more common, but people should never file these claims alone. You need to make sure you are working with an experienced attorney who will know how to determine the strongest grounds on which you can base your particular claim. Many social media companies have bottomless pockets. When Snap, Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, filed documents for an initial public offering (IPO), the company sought to raise as much as $4 billion and had an estimated market value of between $25 billion and $35 billion. Meta Platforms, Inc. had total revenue of $117.929 billion in 2021 and a net income of $39.370 billion. NASDAQ reported that Twitter has a market cap of $31.34 billion and a net worth of $13.316 billion. While these companies might have a lot of money, they will not willingly part with any of it. Instead, most social media companies invest in high-profile defense attorneys to handle these cases and look to get them thrown out of court as soon as possible to quickly get rid of any bad press. You will want to be sure you are working with a lawyer who understands how the social media lawsuit process plays out and how to navigate any of the many tricks that social media companies are likely to employ. Dolman Law Group is ready and capable of taking on this kind of fight.
Protecting the Rights of Social Media Harm VictimsWhen another party causes you injury, you have the right to seek compensation for your losses from them. Following a car accident, you generally file an insurance claim with the negligent driver's insurance company, but how do you seek compensation from someone for social media harm? These cases are complex for many reasons. First, you must identify the person responsible for the harm. Often, people use fake profiles and information to harass or abuse others online, so finding the liable individual can be a challenge. Doing so requires technological knowledge and investigation. Next, there is no applicable insurance coverage when someone causes harm via social media platforms. The person who caused the harm might be a child, and their parents might not have the assets to pay for the fallout from that harm. For this reason, many victims file lawsuits against social media corporations. Trying to sue a social media giant is no easy feat. As discussed, these companies have deep pockets and many legal resources to defend against lawsuits from users or their families. They are ready to fight against people who suffered serious harm from social media platforms and are unlikely to accept liability. The most important thing you can do if you have a social media harm lawsuit is to find the right attorney to take on your case. You need a law firm with resources to stand up to giants like Meta and seek justice for you. Dolman Law Group can do the following and more for social media harm victims:
- Assess the situation and whether you have a valid injury claim due to social media platforms
- Determine who you need to file your claim against, including an individual user or a social media corporation
- Calculate the value of your losses, including costs of mental health care, pain, suffering, emotional distress, or wrongful death
- Prepare and file a persuasive claim.
- Skillfully navigate the litigation process and negotiate a fair settlement whenever possible.
- Represent you in court should your case go to trial.