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Indigenous Tribes Claim Social Media Companies Fuel Native Youth Suicides

— April 12, 2024

Two tribal nations claim that deceptive social media strategies expose indigenous youth to unusual harm.

Two indigenous nations have filed a lawsuit against social media companies, accusing applications like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat of employing unlawful practices that have contributed to high suicide rates among Native American youth.

According to The Associated Press, the lawsuit was filed earlier this week in Los Angeles County Court. The complaint names defendants including:

  • Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram;
  • ByteDance, the owner of TikTok; and
  • Alphabet, the owner of both YouTube and Google.

Lonna Jackson-Street, chairperson of the Spirit Lakes Tribe in North Dakota, said that—while many American teenagers have described their use of social media as “almost constant”—indigenous children are particularly vulnerable to social media companies’ “profit-driven design choices.” These choices, Jackson-Street says, have driven youth suicide rates in indigenous communities to near-record highs.

“This lawsuit follows a growing body of scientific research, which includes, as alleged, previous non-public studies from the defendants and draws a direct line from harmful features on social media to the youth mental health crisis happening in this country,” said attorney Tara Sutton of Robins Kaplan LLP, a law firm representing the tribes.

Photo by JÉSHOOTS from Pexels

“Enough is enough,” said Gena Kakkak, chairwoman of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, a co-plaintiff in the complaint. “Endless scrolling is rewiring our teenagers’ brains.”

“We are demanding these social media corporations take responsibility for intentionally creating dangerous features that ramp up the compulsive use of social media by the youth on our Reservation,” Kakkak said.

The tribes’ lawsuit alleges that social media companies are broadly engaged in a “sophisticated and intentional effort that has caused a continuing, substantial, and longterm burden to the Tribe and its members,” leaving fewer resources available for education and cultural preservation programs.

Google has since said that “the allegations in these complaints are simply not true.”

“Providing young people with a safer, healthier experience has always been core to our work,” Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda sad in a statement. “In collaboration with youth, mental health and parenting experts, we built services and policies to provide young people with age-appropriate experiences, and parents with robust controls.”

Robins Kaplan LLP attorneys, though, said that a growing body of research has established that social media has an immense and deleterious impact on American youth.

“These social media giants have generated hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue, our complaint alleges, using a growth-at-all-costs strategy that comes at the expense of Native children and teenagers and the tribal nations they are part of,” attorney Tim Purdon said.


Menominee Nation of Wisconsin sues TikTok, other social media over teen suicide rate

Two tribal nations sue social media companies over Native youth suicides

Wisconsin tribe sues social media companies over suicide rates among Native youth

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