The Howard County Public School System is the latest Maryland school district to file a lawsuit against social media companies Meta, Google, ByteDance and Snap Inc., alleging that their addictive products are exacerbating the youth mental health crisis for its student body.
The lawsuit charges that increased social media use has led to a significant rise in mental health issues among its more than 57,000 students, placing a substantial burden on the school district to provide sufficient and essential mental health support.
Howard County is joining school districts across the country, including Prince George’s County and Harford County in Maryland, in alleging that the social media products created by the defendants are deliberately designed to target and trap children into addiction. The jurisdictions claim the algorithms powering these platforms have been crafted to manipulate users, particularly young people, into addictive patterns of new content in order to retain their engagement with the apps for extended periods.
These practices, they said, also expose young users to potentially detrimental content, resulting in higher rates of eating disorders, depression and anxiety, and even suicidal ideation.
The HCPSS also alleges that these companies prioritize financial gain over the safety and welfare of children by utilizing advertising-driven business models, even though they are aware of the harmful consequences. The defendants actively market their platforms ― Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok ― to children, reaping significant profits while schools, parents, and children are forced to deal with the consequences.
According to a release issued by the county’s Board of Education, HCPSS faces the task of providing sufficient mental health resources for its students in light of the ongoing addiction crisis. As a result, funds intended for vital educational resources have been redirected to combat the harmful effects of social media.
Through this lawsuit, the board aims to hold these platforms accountable for how they exploit children and seeks financial compensation to combat this crisis rather than having to rely on taxpayer funds.
“Our utmost priority is to safeguard the well-being of our children, allowing them to have equitable access to the finest education and learning opportunities,” said Antonia Watts, Board of Education chair. “Unfortunately, the mental health needs of our students are increasing exponentially and the detrimental effects of addictive social media apps are making the jobs of educators so much more difficult. As a result, critical funding is having to be allocated to providing increased mental health supports so our students are able to focus on learning. This is an unnecessary burden and it is crucial for these companies to acknowledge their responsibility in this crisis that profoundly impacts our youth.”
The HCPSS is represented in the lawsuit by Baird Mandalas Brockstedt Federico & Cardea, of Baltimore and Delaware; and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, co-lead counsel in the nationwide multi-district litigation against these companies. The firms work on a contingency basis, meaning there will be no cost to taxpayers.